Martín Chambi had peasant origin, came from the Peruvian Andes, from a town called Coaza, district of Carabaya near Lake Titikaka in the department of Puno and he was born on November 5, 1891.
After his first contact with photography in the gold mine where his father worked, the Santo Domingo Mining Company, he traveled to Arequipa where he learned the trade of his teacher and guide Don Max T. Vargas. After learning and practice in the workshops from the Portal de Flores of the Plaza de Armas, he ended his stay in Arequipa exhibiting in the Artistic Center of that city on October 12, 1917.
In the following months he traveled accompanied by his wife Manuela López Visa and his children Celia and Víctor to the city of Sicuani where he sets up his first Studio. Sicuani, the capital of the province of Canchis, was a prosperous place at that time for the development in the exploitation of alpaca and llama wool; during this period is when his only daughter photographer Julia Chambi was born.
He established himself professionally and then decides to move to Cusco in 1920 attracted by its splendour and history. In this city is where he develops his most important and dazzling work until his death. It is also there where his sons Angelica, Manuel and Mery are born and where he achieves national and international recognition.
While he was alive, he exhibited in various galleries in Lima and Arequipa, and also some works in La Paz, Bolivia (1925) and Santiago de Chile (1936).
It is interesting to mention his phase as a graphic reporter, by the Peruvian newspaper La Crónica and magazines like Variedades y Mundial and finally by La Nacion de Buenos Aires during the years from 1918 to 1930. He also published his photographic work in the North American magazine National Geographic in February of 1938.
Martín Chambi reveals the daily and magical universe of the Andean culture, giving the world its most intimate secret, through its photographic archive containing about 30,000 negatives, between glass plates ranging from 18 x 24 cm to 13 x 18 cm., 10 x 15 cm to 9 x 12 cm. and flexible films, rolls of 120 and 35 mm. His work remains in perfect condition in the city of Cusco because of its climate.
The archive happily counted on the protection and care of its heirs, especially his daughter Julia, who unfortunately died in 2003. He left his file on his deathbed on September 13, 1973, confessing that he gives her a mine which she will know how to exploit.
Martín Chambi is the first indigenous blood photographer who portrayed his own people with haughtiness and dignity. His portraits recall those that in the same period, 30 years, August Sander recorded in Germany, curiously also the son of a miner and dazzled by the photography that brought a visitor to his town.
But if those portrayed by Sander look abominable in the hardness of their faces that herald the dementia of nearby Nazism, the faces photographed by Martín Chambi reflect the dignity of a people who have taken refuge in themselves, uncomfortable in the imposed clothes, subdued, but never humiliated by the Spanish conquest.
An important event happened in 1977, the American photographer and anthropologist Edward Ranney, together with Víctor Chambi, arrived to Peru from the United States with a group of volunteers from the EarthWatch Foundation, who catalogued and confirmed around 6,000 glass plates. The contribution was valuable, since it is from there that the photographic work is internationally disseminated, arriving at the MOMA in New York in 1979.
The work of Martín Chambi acquires greater significance as the study of it extends and deepens in many places in the world. To its intrinsic value, the beneficial effects that its presence causes in the societies in which it is shown are added.
Various institutions and characters have been interested in researching his work, and many celebrities have written about it. Hundreds of texts, articles, and catalogs have been published. More than a hundred exhibitions have been presented about his work since that of the Artistic Center of Arequipa and scheduled to travel the world until the initial days of the third millennium.
A high technical level, a masterful handling of light, and an exceptional look characterize this creator and classic photographer who could well be called one of the most UNIVERSAL PERUVIANS OF THE 20TH CENTURY
Teo Allain Chambi