United by the sun | Fresco EP #6
Since time immemorial, the southern Swiss Alps valley of Canton Ticino has been considered an energy-charged territory chosen by healers, a center of connection and knowledge. In its meadows and mountains are natural sanctuaries (waterfalls, stones, forests) and temples that bear the mark of indigenous populations. Peruvian photographer Victor Zea explains in the sixth episode of Fresco, our program for new voices in imagery, how he interprets the sun’s trajectory using long exposures with solargraphs.
By Luciana Demichelis
How did you create your project ‘Amalgam’?
‘Amalgam,’ well, it starts with a general premise, which is to portray the relationship the inhabitants of this territory in the canton of Ticino, in the Bersasca Valley, have with the mountainous terrain. I’m interested in portraying this relationship across different generations, and within these different generations, I discover this echo, recognizing how this mountainous space or territory is a refuge. It’s a place that allows you to start from scratch and a place to reconnect with their ancestry, but through nature, through the mountains themselves. And when I photograph, for instance, the younger generations, particularly with the Sound System and music, how through the Sound System Movement, which they conduct at festivals in the mountains, they seek community spaces and organizational efforts. This way, I’m also recognizing the Swiss generation, which I was somewhat familiar with. It’s a sense of them being the children of migrants, Swiss Peruvians, Swiss Colombians, Swiss Ethiopians, Swiss Spaniards, and so on. It was like people, and I was echoing this mix of cultures that allows them to recognize and get to know each other and build a community.
It’s not only the amalgamation they have with their natural territory but also this amalgamation of cultures.
Yes, it allows them to come together as a community. It also resonates with me in Peru and different parts of the world. We, the new generations, are a blend of everything. After photographing their parents and grandparents, who have mostly gone through an immigration process, knowledge of different cultures has allowed them to become what they are now.
I think about this echo of returning to this mountain space to recognize oneself. Without romanticizing the mountains, I arrived in territories where I felt like I was in Cusco. In that sense, I often asked the locals about their ancestral territories or the oldest ones. Some responded from a long time ago, and when they saw me coming from Peru or that I live in Cusco, they felt that I have a stronger link to my ancestors. Hearing this sense of ancestry through conversations with the locals, it was interesting to find myself in their territory. I felt like they didn’t need to have a Machu Picchu to feel the ancestry of their territory, and that’s why this project with solargraphs also emerged. I started making solargraphs thanks to a great friend, Diego López Calvín, whom you can find as Solarigrafía on Instagram. It was a beautiful coincidence because I had presented my book about the sun in Spain in 2019. I have been interested for several years in what the sun means for different cultures or what the sun means primarily for Andean culture.
I started exploring this project, and that’s when Diego López attended the presentation. I already knew a bit about the practice of solargraphy, but Diego was one of the founders of this practice.
How did things progress?
Well, he gave me a couple of cameras, and that’s how it started as a game. In this practice, I found a new way to portray it. When I arrived in Cusco, Diego kindly gave me cameras or sent me to photograph archaeological sites or ancestral remnants through this practice. I began to ask the inhabitants of the Bersasca Valley about their ancestral places. That’s when a great friend of mine, Yaldara, a 65-year-old woman who was a kind of healer in the Bersasca Valley, lent me a book by Andreata. So, that’s where the idea came to me to place cameras in these ancestral places, whether waterfalls, temples, or castles that are more than 900 years old or places with hieroglyphics.
What else are you currently working on?
In the last four years, I’ve been working on the hip-hop scene, essentially in rap but in the Quechua language. Not just in Quechua but in every territory I go to, I even portray rap in indigenous languages. Even in Switzerland, when I was in the Canton of Ticino, there’s a language called Romansh, and only one group raps in that language.
I don’t just want to bring it to this territory in Latin America but to create that fusion. Well, I’m interested in the encounter of the ancestral with the contemporary as a contemporary tool. Hip-hop was born in the suburbs of New York, and it allows young generations or generations to strengthen their identity process in the territory where they live, whether with the language or by rapping lyrics related to the identity of their territory. So, that’s the project I’m currently working on, and I hope to close it in a few months, in quotes, at least to complete a short film. I’m also currently working on solargraphy.
I had the opportunity to receive support from the Magnum Foundation and the World Monument Foundation to carry out a project in the locality of Llaullos, which is in the Sierra of Lima, in a community called Miraflores. They continue to work with what they inherited from their ancestors, which are stone dams created by their ancestors in the year 900 to create lagoons. They continue to work with this ancestral technology, and the ancient town of Huaquis, from the year 900, is now being revalued to potentially promote tourism in their territory. I’m working on that project with Diego López now. While the work in Switzerland was collaborative but done from a distance, in Switzerland, we placed eight cameras. When we had results in seven, in Llaullos, Diego came to Peru in December 2022 and also visited in June of this year. We placed about 45 cameras there, and we have already collected the cameras.
Going back to what’s interesting about Amalgama is that as a creative process, it makes me realize what I’m looking for in my projects. It’s the transmission of knowledge between different generations. In this case, the Llaullos project, it’s about how they continue to work with the legacy of their ancestors and how they connect with their ancestral space. The body has memory, and so does the territory. It’s the same thing I sought in Amalgama and what I continue to search for in the project on rap in indigenous languages and how they connect with their cultural heritage. We are also working with a group of friends, Ángela Ponce, Giovanna Chukichampi, and Aliendo, on a Guardians of the Glaciers project. It’s about how communities, particularly the Pinaya community, is the closest village to the Calcaya glacier. This glacier supplies water to the entire Sacred Valley and will even supply water to Cusco. They are facing climate change or the wave of glaciation with their ancestral knowledge, with the creation of dams, with the creation of wetlands, and with spiritual knowledge and offerings to somehow confront it, knowing that it’s an imminent change. But what interests us is how they continue to pass on to their children and future generations how they are somehow tackling this issue of the climate crisis and water scarcity.
What do you think you would say to someone who is just starting to create projects?
Well, that’s a good question. I don’t know; from the recent experiences I’ve had sharing my work with young people, I sometimes believe that the most important thing is what story we’re going to tell. In other words, how do we get to what we want to say? I feel that everyone has something to say. We can learn the techniques and forms in laboratories and workshops. I think that’s very important. I think the most important thing is to ask yourself, what moves you? What makes you cry? What makes you happy? And these questions sometimes make the themes you want to portray emerge with the greatest honesty. I don’t mean you can only tell one story; as a professional, you can tell different stories. But sometimes, from my own experience. I haven’t felt the need on my journey to tell something that moves me. Whether it’s depicting the transmission of knowledge because it’s, in some way, my process to strengthen my identity, whether through rap or photography, it’s how I find myself.
These have been tools that have allowed me to get to know myself and have allowed me to strengthen my identity process. So I would tell someone who is starting to work on projects to ask themselves: What do you want to say? Why do you want to say it? And what truly moves you? Because I don’t know, I believe these projects sometimes make a difference.