Machu Pichu and the Camera

Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, UEA, Norwich

This exhibition presents the Lost City of the Inca's as a 20th-century phenomenon, discovered by the American explorer Hiram Bingham on July 24, 1911, and made known to the world through photography.

Hiram Bingham's first few hours at Machu Picchu were spent taking photographs.

After that momentous afternoon he did not return to the site until 1912, but sent some of his colleagues to Machu Picchu in September 1911, most notably Herman Tucker who took many of the most important early photographs.

Machu Picchu came to my attention through two intrepid friends, who had trekked there in aid of the Children's Soceity.


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Through this absorbing exhibition I began to understand how it is to walk up to and catch a first glimpse of this amazing discovery.

The opening images are two overlapping negatives; Looking West toward Huayana Picchu and Looking West, both taken on July 24, 1911.

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The site was occupied then by Indian farmers growing maize in the buildings, the roofs covered to enable their crops to grow.

Woman Spinning on an Afternoon, taken on the same day, shows the mother in the doorway of a shelter, her child at staring at the camera – the shock of the new for the child and the discovery of the old for Bingham.

So many lives and destiny were shaped by that July afternoon.

Bingham is captured by Erdis on his return to the lost city in 1912 in the Director at Rest – and it reveals a handsome man.

However the photograph which took my breath away shows three men on a precipice above the city. It captures the enormity of this incredible man-made world wonder. Teoffilo Allain, sketches while Andris Santantander and Martin Chambi gaze on the summit of Machu Picchu. It was taken in 1939 by Chambi.

Compare that with the 500,000 tourists who visit today, who still grab for their cameras to capture the wonderment that Bingham happened upon.

Tourists in Raincoats (Chadwyck-Healy 2001) is a glimpse of the tourist trail which captures the colourful macs standing on the edge, intent on listening to their guide. Tourists on Longeurs, 2400m, shows that not all travellers acclimatise to the altitude.

The exhibition is a wonderful journey through a century of exploration and tourism, united by mankind's never-ending sense of inspiration for the man-made wonders of this world.

t Machu Puchu and the Camera continues at the Sainsbury Centre until March 14.

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