Development

In the virtual archive of the National Library I find a picture of my great-grandmother in her wedding dress and I understand that, somehow, a part of me was also there. Arturo Talavera arrives from Mexico to help me develop wet plate collodion pictures, an old photographic process also used by Courret in his studio. We work with natural light, old cameras and chemicals we ourselves mix. After four days, not a single picture has come out. Arturo, the expert, performs tests to see if the problem is in the camera, in the collodion that is not ripe or is expired, in the silver nitrate or the fixative that we changed for cyanide. Or maybe it is the darkroom that lets in some light. We moved the darkroom to a more protected area and changed all the chemicals once more to rule each one out. It seems that the silver nitrate, contaminated with dust particles, is causing the errors. We boil it and place it back again to solve the problem.

We work for fifteen days and the experience brings the evolution of photography to my mind. While I breathe under the focusing cloth that I drape over my head to see the inverted image through the camera lens, I start to better understand photography. Time and light, the image as true as that of a mirror. One hundred and fifty years have reduced exposure times, and our patience. History now has different parameters. After several tries, the images finally start to appear. All the effort gives each photo a special value. I keep them all, flawed or not, since mistakes are part of the project. I clean the glass plates, pour the collodion, sensitize the emulsion, bring into frame, expose, measure the time and develop. Today, three months after completing the project, the ambrotypes, tintypes and negatives take me back, with their magical voices, to those December days.I wonder what Courret would think if he came back to life and saw what has become of his studio. He would stand on the balcony and be surprised at the way his street, the Jirón de la Unión looks, so different, bustling, with lights and people of an informal Lima unknown to him. I think he'd run for his camera, as I did many times during those two weeks.

Astrid Jahnsen

The history of the Fotografía Central photography studio is undoubtedly one of the most important threads in the fabric of Peruvian photographic history. Founded in 1863 by the brothers Eugene and Aquiles Courret, two French citizens living in Peru since the 1840s, the studio quickly became the most prominent in the Peruvian capital –in part thanks to the acquaintances of Mr. Courret Senior amongst Lima’s most notable citizens– and survived, albeit with new ownership, up until the end of the first third of the twentieth century. It was nearly seven decades of uninterrupted work, in which the studio was the privileged stage of the development of the culture of the photographic image and it’s technical, aesthetic and social changes.  The crisis in the photography business of the 1930s (product of such diverse factors as the global economic crisis, the spread of instant cameras and changes in the social practices of the representation of identity) forced the closure of the studio in 1935. The more than 150,000 negatives stored throughout its history served to pay the workers of the studio at the time of its closure, so one of the most valuable photographic archives in the history of Peruvian photography was dispersed. In 1987, the National Library of Peru acquired 54,000 of those negatives and formed the Archivo Courret, one of the most important repositories of the history of photography in Peru.  The building where the studio operated still stands a few meters away from Lima’s Plaza de Armas, in the first block of Jirón de la Unión, one of the most important commercial streets in the city Center. The building now serves other uses and except for its characteristic art nouveau façade, which dates from 1905, little remains of the old photography studio.  CURATORS TEXT   THRESHOLD OF OBLIVION   When we think of it from the perspective of its duration in time, the act of sitting for a portrait is an exercise in anticipated nostalgia. For nearly 70 years, members of the high society of Lima attended Eugenio Courret’s Fotografía Central photography studio to be portrayed. Thousands of people of several generations posed for him with a longing that combined the construction of their identity with the fight against the passing of time.  Today, much of the Courret’s archive is lost. The studio’s beautiful art nouveau façade in the first block of Jirón of the Union survives in a place that now tends to ignore it. The dynamics of the urban space around the studio have changed completely: it responds now to a recent history of population explosion and migration, of social and cultural changes in which the high society that attended the studio to pose for Mr. Courret’s lens no longer exists.  With this project –an intervention of the public space surrounding the studio with life-size reproductions of several of the characters portrayed by Courret– Astrid Jahnsen seeks to close the wide gap that time has created between the thousands of personal stories captured in Courret’s photographs and the Lima of today. The gesture of momentarily reviving those people who walked these same streets one hundred and fifty years ago to make them converse quietly with today’s inhabitants of the city, is equivalent to organizing a protest march against oblivion.  Carlo Trivelli

The history of the Fotografía Central photography studio is undoubtedly one of the most important threads in the fabric of Peruvian photographic history. Founded in 1863 by the brothers Eugene and Aquiles Courret, two French citizens living in Peru since the 1840s, the studio quickly became the most prominent in the Peruvian capital –in part thanks to the acquaintances of Mr. Courret Senior amongst Lima’s most notable citizens– and survived, albeit with new ownership, up until the end of the first third of the twentieth century. It was nearly seven decades of uninterrupted work, in which the studio was the privileged stage of the development of the culture of the photographic image and it’s technical, aesthetic and social changes.

The crisis in the photography business of the 1930s (product of such diverse factors as the global economic crisis, the spread of instant cameras and changes in the social practices of the representation of identity) forced the closure of the studio in 1935. The more than 150,000 negatives stored throughout its history served to pay the workers of the studio at the time of its closure, so one of the most valuable photographic archives in the history of Peruvian photography was dispersed. In 1987, the National Library of Peru acquired 54,000 of those negatives and formed the Archivo Courret, one of the most important repositories of the history of photography in Peru.

The building where the studio operated still stands a few meters away from Lima’s Plaza de Armas, in the first block of Jirón de la Unión, one of the most important commercial streets in the city Center. The building now serves other uses and except for its characteristic art nouveau façade, which dates from 1905, little remains of the old photography studio.

CURATORS TEXT

THRESHOLD OF OBLIVION

When we think of it from the perspective of its duration in time, the act of sitting for a portrait is an exercise in anticipated nostalgia. For nearly 70 years, members of the high society of Lima attended Eugenio Courret’s Fotografía Central photography studio to be portrayed. Thousands of people of several generations posed for him with a longing that combined the construction of their identity with the fight against the passing of time.

Today, much of the Courret’s archive is lost. The studio’s beautiful art nouveau façade in the first block of Jirón of the Union survives in a place that now tends to ignore it. The dynamics of the urban space around the studio have changed completely: it responds now to a recent history of population explosion and migration, of social and cultural changes in which the high society that attended the studio to pose for Mr. Courret’s lens no longer exists.

With this project –an intervention of the public space surrounding the studio with life-size reproductions of several of the characters portrayed by Courret– Astrid Jahnsen seeks to close the wide gap that time has created between the thousands of personal stories captured in Courret’s photographs and the Lima of today. The gesture of momentarily reviving those people who walked these same streets one hundred and fifty years ago to make them converse quietly with today’s inhabitants of the city, is equivalent to organizing a protest march against oblivion.

Carlo Trivelli