Saturday, 16 May 2009

Photography and Memory (3): Vera Lentz

This is the third in a series of posts on photographers whose work is concerned with issues of memory in Latin America. One could argue all photography is 'about' remembering, in that photographs show us images from the past and are so often used as part of memory work. I'm interested principally in photographic images that are more explicitly concerned with political violence in twentieth-century Latin American and its aftermath. Some of the photographers featured will lean more to the 'arty' side, others to the field of 'photojournalism'. Post one is here, post two here.

Vera Lentz is the creator of some of the most well-known images of the Peruvian conflict. The one above is the cover photograph for the book of Yuyanapaq and the publicity photograph for the film State of Fear, which also features Lentz in person, discussing her work.

This image is an icon, perhaps because it is so symbolic, rather than detailed. A small passport-size photograph rests gently on the cupped hands of a relative of its subject. The man in the photograph is, of course, missing - disappeared. In his way, he stands for all the disappeared of Peru. Photographs of photographs are a huge component of commemoration of the disappeared in the absence of their actual bodies; not just in Peru, but globally.

In this series of images, Lentz records the aftermath of the massacre of Socos, in which counter-terrorist forces (known as sinchis) murdered over 30 members of a wedding party. Lentz commented,
The bride had survived this massacre, so it was all her family. She was looking at the dead, and her fiancé…her future husband.
SOF fact check, p. 21

I assume that this is the stunned bride herself, standing among the remains of her extended family. In State of Fear, Lentz returns to the scene twenty years later to see what happened to the village in the wake of the attack.

Lentz captures scenes of great emotion, and she also took huge risks, photographing the armed forces, Shining Path, and smuggling cameras into jails where Sendero prisoners held sway. You can see a larger range of her photography in the image database of Yuyanapaq.

UPDATE 2012: This post is one of the most-viewed on the blog and one of the top results for a Google search of "Vera Lentz", so I thought it was worth updating:

German-speakers might like to read this long article on Lentz, including her background as a Peruvian of German origin and her eduction in Germany, here:
Dämonin der Wahrheit (taz)

Spanish speakers can also read this article in Caretas, which is also the source of the photo of Lentz at the top of this post:


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