Lima Nocturnes


In this book I visually describe what I call peripheral Lima, that is, the great Metropolitan Lima. As overpopulated as it is endless, the city is a complex and varied metropolis, much more extensive than the small bubble in which we, indifferent and distant “Limeños” live, considering ourselves to be from Lima in spite of not knowing closely the true extension and the extraordinary vastness of the territory covered by this investigation.

During the night is when there are palpable signs or traces of the human beings that flood the streets during the day without being able to avoid leaving behind their unmistakable marks, which, still fresh, are captured by the insomniac eye of the photographer, who registers and documents them in order to later show the other reality of Lima, the one we do not often see very often. Besides being a photographic study, this work involves a sociological analysis; and it is also an urban and topographical investigation of this overflowing megalopolis. The content of this project could be categorized as “nocturnal urban landscape.” It is a kind of hybrid between artistic/expressive vision—with a fairly pictorial treatment of color— and documentary photographic research. We could then speak of a visual and interdisciplinary analysis of a great multifaceted and pluricultural reality such as Lima’s.

In this context, the artist finds beauty even in places where no one would think to look for it. Therefore, there is a deliberate discordance between the form and content of many of the pictures included in this book; that is, a counterpoint between the beauty of the images and the sordidness of certain places they document, some of which might even be considered too dismal. However, this is precisely the great challenge facing the artist, for his mission in this case is to scrutinize reality in order to find beauty in ugliness, order in disorder, and harmony in chaos.

The color palette used is lively, saturated and stimulating. The colors of the images, free as they are, are part of the signature and the emotional quota of the author. It is, then, an expressionist treatment of color, influenced in part by the work of Peruvian painter Enrique Polanco, and his experimental and expressive use of color. According to this point of view, it is not necessary to maintain the color of reality, but rather to exacerbate and adjust it, according to the artist's own chromatic expression.

The composition of the image is fundamental. The framings of this book are very rich in terms of rhythms and frequencies. The organization of space must be elaborated and at the same time dynamic. The photographer's point of view must be precise. Half a step forward or half a step aside and the framing will be significantly different.

The idea of “equivalence,” coined by the American photographer Alfred Stieglitz, and later developed by Minor White, greatly influences all my work. Originally, the Equivalences are a series of photographs of clouds taken by Stieglitz between 1925 and 1934. These are recognized as the first photographs that tried to free subject matter from literal interpretation. Stieglitz’s cloud photographs combine photographic objectivity with the emotional reactions that his images produce. The equivalence does not require verbal language to be interpreted. In it there is a communion between the photographed frame and the slightest emotions of the artist.

For Minor White, the concept and the discipline of equivalence is the cornerstone of photography as a means of expression. Equivalence is a function, an experience by which the observer realizes that what he sees in an image corresponds to an inner fiber of his: the photograph reflects something of his. The viewer can become aware of this equivalence and find in the photograph a sense of correspondence to himself. In this sense, the image becomes a symbol that fulfills a metaphorical role that goes beyond the photographed object. In short, equivalence is the photographer’s ability to use the visual world as the raw material of his expressive purposes. So when we document an object we turn the photograph into a mirror of some aspect of ourselves.

Therefore, more than a mere imitator, the photographer is a re-creator of reality, transforming it according to his own subjectivity and sensibility. In this way, the photographic image can become a subjective document of that reality.

A photographic image can dispel certain demons with which the artist had struggled, but from whose hold he manages to escape through the metaphors present in his work. The emptiness of these nocturnal spaces evokes a deep sense of loneliness and abandonment with which the artist exorcises these evils, sublimating them through the cathartic process proper to creation. The photographer’s great challenge is to find the extraordinary within the ordinary. When trying to order chaos, the photographer’s eye seeks, in some way, to improve reality itself, highlighting it and intensifying it. Both in the outskirts of Lima and in its surrounding hills we have found architecture in perpetual construction. Migrant families always think about the possibility of adding one, two or more floors to their homes, so they are always building or, in any case, leaving the structures ready for later construction.

The photographic record of this investigation was not easy, due to the high criminality in most of these locations, especially at night. This risky process led to the creation of a small production team, composed of a driver —who knew Lima as the palm of his hand— and one or two armed security agents, according to the level of danger in each district or urbanization where we intended to venture. It was impossible not to feel an intense adrenaline rush, especially because each photograph required a long exposure time.

It should be noted that all the images in this book were taken with an analog camera, totally mechanical and with medium format film. Due to this, the exposure time of each photograph lasted an average of ten minutes. No type of photometer was used to calculate the luminosity of these pictures, so the measurement of light was based exclusively on experience.

It must be pointed out that this project meant an exorcism of sorts for me, the human soul behind the photographic eye. The images in this book constitute a mirror of my own feelings. In this sense, the loneliness and the abandonment of these nocturnal settings are expressions of my own loneliness as an observer who, through the use of equivalences, sublimates conflicting and dark emotions, transforming them into harmonious and balanced compositions, and into pure and bright colors. This imperious desire to order chaos and purify reality is nothing more than a rigorous attempt at self-analysis, whose main purpose is to accommodate and purify abstract emotions, filtering them from their negative and painful content, and converting them into an endless search for more sublime, untouchable and redemptive beauty.

Santiago Bustamante