Lima's Life Stories, Through Photo-Portraits
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because getting to know our communities has a brand-new look.
By Shannon Sims
You’ve probably heard of Humans of New York, the Facebook page that has become a phenomenon. It posts simple photos of New Yorkers on the street and short descriptions of their not-so-simple lives. There’s a project with similar contours to HONY’s, but with a different execution and in a very different place, 3,500 miles away: Lima, Peru.
Mírame, Lima is the brainchild of two professional Peruvian photographers, Jaime Travezan and Morgana Vargas Llosa, and an art director, David Tortora. The trio joined with a production team in Peru with the goal of offering up a series of profiles of the burgeoning, nearly 8.5 million-person city — one that is somehow still “absent from imagery” for most people abroad, Tortora says. The portraits are much more composed than HONY’s street snapshots, with a studiolike aspect even to those shot outdoors: regular people posed in royal portraits, a curious juxtaposition that keeps the eye scanning for details — a stuffed teddy bear, a crate of beer — that tell a life story.
They’ve come up with a constellation of the people for whom home is this city that, while not necessarily pleasing, is one “you couldn’t possibly ignore.”
To complete the project, the team searched far and wide for subjects, hitting nearly all of Lima’s 43 districts, including those far off the beaten path even for the Peruvian team. Tortora says that the experience was a “constant alternation between the incredibly exotic and the completely familiar.” What they’ve come up with is a constellation of the people for whom home is this city that, while not necessarily pleasing, is one “you couldn’t possibly ignore,” says Tortora. (Some of the profiles were translated from Spanish into English for an airline magazine article.)
Shooting in Lima meant dealing with the the city’s fickle peculiarities. Families who committed to shoots one week would change their minds the next. And it was impossible to forecast the weather even within the same day, due to Lima’s ever-changing climate. “Often we had to shoot in very unfavorable conditions, like fog or rain,” Tortora says. But those tough conditions turned out acclaimed work. One photo of local fishermen and their families scattered across a beach beneath an overcast, gray sky dripping seagulls and superimposed fish landed in the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize Exhibition in 2013 as one of the top 60 portraits of the year.
The project was first exhibited in Lima in 2013, and since then has traveled around Spanish-speaking countries. Stateside, you might have spotted the work in a gallery in Portland, Oregon, or on the billboards of Times Square.