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Andinos: Encounters in Cusco
An image of Gabriel Barreto Bentín's photo book: 'Andinos: Encounters in Cusco'. Photo: Rizzoli

Celebrating the Andino identity

NY-based Peruvian photographer Gabriel Barreto Bentin published ‘Andinos: Encounters in Cusco, Peru,’ an intimate portrait of the Andean society of Cusco.

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When looking for inspiration for his first photo book, New York City-based Peruvian photographer Gabriel Barreto Bentín had an idea in mind — to break the clichés surrounding the Andean people. To do so, he traveled to Cusco, Peru to portray the diversity of the local people through their faces and attire, independently from the landscape.

The result is Andinos: Encounters in Cusco, Peru, published by Rizzoli, an intimate portrait of the Andean society of Cusco that tries to break with the clichés shown in the typical postcards of the Andes. Postcards that show imposing hills, splendorous valleys and people considered exotic and part of the evoked landscape, but that almost always correspond to a foreign look, far from the real context that surrounds them. 

This disconnection was the starting point for Barreto Bentín's Andinos: Encounters in Cusco, a project that was born more than five years ago when the photographer visited the imperial city for the first time. It was May 2016 and that adventure provoked a series of questions that gradually moved into the visual field, from an anthropological perspective.

For Barreto, there is a dichotomy in the perception of the inhabitants of the region.

"On the one hand, “The Perfect Postcard” shows the Andes as a magical, lost-in-time place, and the Andinos as pure and almost magical people who are a static version of old folkloric tales. On the other hand, in “The Image of the Poor,” we can observe an insensitive and antiquated postcolonial narrative elaborated by the people of the capital to project a sense of superiority over those who did not inhabit the economic center of the country," he explained to AL DIA News.

Much like the ‘Humans of New York’ for the people and Indigenous culture of Peru, Barreto traveled to Cusco and the Sacred Valley to photograph locals against white backgrounds, focusing on how they dress for different types of work and occasions. The images portray the diversity of the Andean people through their faces and attire, irrespective of the landscape. The portraits are accompanied by observations by neighbors from nearby communities — interviews that explicitly guide the reader through the articulation of modernity in the Andean society of Cusco.

Once Barreto had taken the portraits, he worked with Peruvian anthropologist Francesco D’Angelo to design a method for interviewing people from Cusco about their thoughts on the photos he had taken. By showing the printed pictures to different groups of people in the area, he explored how the people saw themselves and what they understood as Andino identity. They were better able to understand how people perceived each other, as the white background invited participants to pay attention to the individual without linking the subjects to a specific place. The goal was to create an experimental ethnography. Rather than describing what Barreto saw in his own words, he instead allowed the participants to speak for themselves through their descriptions of the photographs.

The elements stressed in the personal testimonies during the dialogues demonstrate the complexity of Cusco’s social hierarchy, particularly how urban-rural and present-past dichotomies are used to negotiate the social status of the people of Cusco. These interviews show the complexity of defining modernity in simple terms, as well as the social logic at play in local Andean perspectives. Andinos produces a portrait of modernity in Cusco, spoken by the Andean people themselves. 

andinos book cover

The book can be purchased online at Rizzoli's website.

A book launch event will be held at the Rizzoli Bookstore (1133 Broadway, New York, NY 10010) on April 18, 2022 at 6 p.m. with a panel discussion between Barreto and Latin American art expert José Luis Falconi. 

Barreto Bentin is a New York City-based, Peruvian fashion and portrait photographer. He recently graduated from the School Of Visual Arts with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography & Video.

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