Eugenio Courret

Courret Archive

About the project
Leslie Searles
Yapatera: The Solitude of Clay, Sugar Cane, and the Algarrobo Tree
Leslie Searles

Yapatera: The Solitude of Clay, Sugar Cane, and the Algarrobo Tree

About the project


In 1863, the Frenchmen Eugenio and Aquiles Courret set up their photo studio, named Fotografía Central, on Jirón de la Unión, the epicenter of social life in Lima at the time. Given the Courret family’s congenial relationships with Peruvian politicians and aristocrats, the studio was frequented by Lima’s most affluent families and it became one of the most important of its kind in South America.

The pictures from the Courret Archive displayed here are portraits of women of African descent who were wet nurses, selected to care for the infants of Lima’s elite in the nineteenth century. Aristocratic customs inherited from the period of slavery meant these women were made to work as nannies, whose duties included breastfeeding the newborns of affluent families.

Part of the Courret Archive was purchased by Peru’s National Library in 1999 and can be accessed on line.

Leslie Searles, Peru

A project commissioned by Africamericanos / AECID

Some time ago, in the mid-twentieth century, there were rumors among the people of Yapatera that the sugar mill was devouring men. The cane shredder caused many accidents: workers lost limbs or even their lives while operating this hazardous piece of machinery. They say that the mill brought with it a period of prosperity. But one day the business ceased to be profitable, the hacienda went bankrupt, and the mill closed for good.

Since then, the town of Yapatera, in the province of Morropón, in the region of Piura on the northern coast of Peru, is no more than a cluster of homes made of reeds and clay (yapato), rice paddies, algarrobo trees, and donkeys trotting down lonely dirt roads baked by the sun. Eight thousand people stubbornly eke out an existence on the land on which their ancestors lived: the first enslaved Africans (from Congo, Mozambique, and Angola) brought during the colonial period to work in these fields.

I traveled there to document the connections that the inhabitants of Yapatera have with their territory and their past, families proud of their African roots but also others that do not identify as black. They bear the traces of more extensive mestizaje: for generations they did what they could to “improve the race,” since they thought that lighter-skinned children would be better off than their darker-skinned parents.

The profound solitude evoked by Yapatera’s landscape is linked to the Peruvian government’s neglect and the lack of employment. Dozens of young men and women leave home as soon as they can. The ruins of the plantation house and sugar mill, now filled with thorny bushes and garbage, are metaphors for the scarcity of opportunities that the young people are trying to escape. However, the land, a land of their own, always makes them return.

Leslie Searles

(b. 1978) Arequipa, Peru

Migration, sexual exploitation, and otherness are some of the themes Leslie Searles has explored in her work, produced in different communities in Peru, Brazil, and Cuba. She worked for the Peruvian newspaper El Comercio from 2009 to 2013. She has undertaken various book projects for non-profit organizations and NGOs such as the United Nations Population Fund, Save the Children, the Inter-American Development Bank, and UNICEF. She took part in the Rencontres Photographiques de Guyane (French Guiana) in 2014 and was a finalist for the OjodePez de Valores Humanos award of PhotoEspaña in 2012. In collaboration with Musuk Note, and with the support of the Mario Testino Association, in 2014she published Piruw, which gathers black-and-white images of the festivals, traditions, and landscapes of Peru. In 2015 the book received an honorable mention at the POY Latam photography competition.