Awaiting the Rain

Peru in Black-and-White: A photo essay by Michael Robinson Chávez

On the altiplano, or high plain, between Cusco and Puno, passengers wait anxiously while their broken-down locomotive gets repaired.

The chaos was glorious. Traffic laws seemed a matter of opinion, hawkers barked their offers through scratchy speakers perched on fruit stands, and pedestrians took their lives in their hands sprinting across the potholed streets. Peru in 1988 was a country on the brink; the local currency had the value of confetti and civil war was raging. For an 18-year-old with Peruvian roots who’d grown up in the manicured suburbs of the Conejo Valley, it was beyond eye-opening.

Through a beat-up Leica M6 and a bag full of Tri-X, Peru seduced me. It was therapy to relieve the pressures of working in the newspaper world. Freed of editors’ expectations and constricting deadlines, I immersed myself in the art of black-and-white film and darkroom printing.

Peru has changed considerably since that first visit but I am still under her spell. I travel to the Andean nation just about every year. The economy is booming and the old mantra of Peruvians being more accustomed to catastrophe than success is taking on water.

My most recent trip was for an assignment: a set of stories for the Los Angeles Times, my current employer. The Leicas are gathering dust in this new digital world. It might be time to clean them up and hit the Andean highway once again.

In Puno, a cerveza-fueled character turns a fireworks display into an impromptu dance performance.

A silhouetted señora and decorations put up for Cajamarca’s carnival celebrations.

Music and dancing at a small party in Puerto Chicama.

Good use of a voting sign at a polling station in Iquitos during the 2000 presidential elections.

Late night in Lima’s Barranco neighborhood.


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