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.
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.
I began my photography career with this project in 1985. Since then, I have always focused on topics relating to African culture. It has been a constant in my life: my best friends and my new family have African ancestors.
In the Shadow of the Guarango Tree reveals different stages in my career as a photographer. I began by doing straight documentary photography, but then I photographed things from the inside out, I let myself be seduced by my subjects and we established an intimate, passionate relationship together, almost like life partners. In this regard, my friend, photographer Pepe Casals, now deceased, wrote the following in the catalogue for my first show in 1987: “Lorry Salcedo brings us a collection of portraits of living and, above all, vibrant beings. One part of this collection shows us their ‘inner life’ and the other, outdoor portraits, which depict the surprise of the encounter…. The document is already there, and [Salcedo] further shows it to us as an expression of love towards the human being who shelters it and displays the kind of naturalness that is so difficult to achieve.”
In both still and moving images, Lorry Salcedo has documented the Afrodescendant traditions, culture, and communities of his native country. He received a residency grant from the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund in 1994, which allowed him to undertake the project Africa’s Legacy in Brazil and Peru. He is the author of Los Huamachucos. Testimonios de una gran cultura (Asociación Civil Ruta Moche, 2013), which gathers portraits and architectural views of a sacred site in northern Peru. In 2007 he directed and produced his first full-length documentary film, El fuego eterno. The retrospective exhibition Historias iluminadas. Lorry Salcedo, 30 años de fotografía y cine constitutes a through survey of this distinguished photographer’s entire body of work. He is currently director and curator of the New York Peruvian Film Showcase.