One by one, Associated Press photographer Rodrigo Abd positioned the traditional dancers, musicians and vendors in front of an old-fashioned box camera in Peru’s Sinakara Valley as a colorful Andean festival exploded all around them.
The men, women and children were among the tens of thousands of pilgrims representing some eight nations who came to this sacred place in Quispicanchis province in Peru’s Cuzco region for the annual Snow Star Festival, shortly before this year’s Christian feast of Corpus Christi.
After their portraits were made, the subjects spoke of the beliefs and rituals they keep alive in the 21st century.
“I’m proud to be another soldier for the Lord of Qoyllur Rit’i,” said 33-year-old Aldo Machaca Quispe, referring to the image of Jesus Christ venerated in the region. He sat for a portrait with his son Brandon, 6, and said he hoped to pass down the traditions to the boy.
Last year, Abd used digital equipment to photograph the three-day festival that also coincides with the reappearance of the star cluster Pleiades in the Southern Hemisphere, signaling the abundance of the harvest season.
But this year, he chose to bring his old-fashioned box camera, a primitive device built of wood and modeled on ones he saw portrait photographers using in Afghanistan while he was on assignment there in 2006.
With a lens and space for a developing lab inside, the box camera uses 19th century technology to produce luminous black-and-white images.
“The idea of making portraits with my wooden camera of the pilgrims … was beguiling,” Abd said of the project. “But once on the ground, the project also represented an enormous logistical complexity.”
Abd and two assistants, Victor Zea and Ignacio Gonzalez Vigil, used three packhorses to transport the heavy camera, its tripod, a black cloth to block light during developing, processing chemicals and a tent through near-freezing temperatures to a plain about 14,700 feet (4,500 meters) high, set amid a snowcapped mountain range beloved by the Quechua people.
Inscribed on UNESCO’S Intangible Cultural Heritage List, the Peruvian festival features a pilgrimage by local people to the sanctuary where there is a boulder with an image of Jesus Christ, known as the Lord of Qoyllur Rit’i (pronounced KOL-yer REE-chee), or Snow Star in the Quechua language.
People in colorful indigenous costumes, some wearing masks, others holding harps or other musical instruments, sat still for up to two minutes as Abd made exposures, light shining through the lens onto photographic paper inside the box.
Abd produced negative prints of each picture by passing the photo paper through the developer and fixer sloshing inside the box. The negative prints were then hung with plastic clothespins to dry in the Andean air.
With each one, the process was repeated to make a positive print.
The result was a series of stunning images of people in traditional garb little known outside the Peruvian Andes.
For dancer Guido Yupaniki Cereceda, worship of the Lord through the festival “is very meaningful for the Andean world. He’s God and love for all of us.”