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Dick SwiftIn the fall of 1964 I found myself witnessing springtime in Peru.
I finished my college degree (University of Arizona) in January 1964 and had worked as an apprentice photographer for seven months at Shigeta-Wright Associates in Chicago. A Peace Corp invitation to a project in Peru was received and my life was about to change once again.
After intensive Peace Corps training in Oklahoma and Mexico I was ordained as a rural community developer with a high-altitude agricultural bent, and sent to Peru. I had taken a small portfolio of my photography work to Peace Corp training, then to Peru. The portfolio and my prior photography experience paved the way for an invitation by the Peruvian authorities to work in photography for several Peruvian governmental agencies in Lima. I couldnít have hoped for a better situation.
Job assignments were with Cooperacion Nacional, the Departamento de Fomento, and the Peruvian National Tourism Agency. I would be assisting in the production of training and educational materials. Working in my profession was a blessing for me since I would be able to follow my love of photography while being useful to Peru at the same time.
Peru was a magnificent palette for a photo-artist from the U.S.. Peru is a tantalizing, visual mix of cultures, races, and history. The archeological impact is omni-present. In one compact country one finds the arid coast (almost never rains), the Andes rising up grandly from the coast, and the jungle, west of the mountains. All a photographerís delight.
Projects included producing a marketing slide show for use in rural cooperatives, and developing a tourism brochure centered on the Cuzco-Macchu Picchu-Ollantytambo region as well as the jungle area of Iquitos and the archeological areas along the coast from Arequipa to the northern regions of the Callejon de Huaylas and the mountain Huascaran which, during an earthquake, caused a massive, muddy landslide completely covering the city of Yungay and 22,000 people. I was requested to illustrate, design and write the english language tourism brochure. I made some work available to U.S. AID and to the Peace Corps Magazine in Washington.
I was never without my Leica cameras though at one point I was able to afford a Nikon F with several special lenses due to several assignments carried out for "Caretas" magazine in Lima. (One assignment was to photograph Miss Peru with Miss Universe, the result of which was a full-page cover.) I was fortunate to obtain use, during evening and weekend hours, of the darkroom in the American Embassy. This allowed me to print black and white freely.
I rarely set up pictures, unless the situation calls for it. Spontaneity is a prime concern for me in my personal approach. Being invisible, unobtrusive and always ready is important to my work. When a person views my photographs I expect that they will think of the image or subject itself and not of the camera or photographer or technique. A moderately short focal length lens is, for me, preferred. I donít like the long lenses since they reveal the photographers detachment from the subject.
With several weeks of vacation time I joined with an American writer, John Hedges, for a journalistic trip across the Andes into the jungle villages of Pozuzo and Prussia. A hundred years or more ago several hundred Prussian couples were offered jungle property to develop agriculturally by the Peruvian government. We traveled to the villages first by bus over the Andes, and after an overnight stay a half-day in the bed of a truck, another overnight sleeping on bags of coffee in a small shack, then 5-6 hours by mule into the villages. Two weeks spent with the stalwart 4th and 5th generation descendants of the original settlers was extraordinary. I used every frame of the slide film I could afford... only 17 rolls. I could have used that amount in a day. Rationing the film to little more than a roll a day was difficult. I could shoot only when convinced of the viability. I used some black and white on this mission, some of which was used in Johnís article for The Peruvian Times, his employer. We were accompanied by Johnís Peruvian wife, Amanda, and a German translator since German was still the common language in Pozuzo and Prussia.
I also contributed to a worldwide traveling exhibit "Peru Ante el Mundo". This was a skillfully produced show which extolled the virtues of Peruís cultural and archeological offerings. My photos of Macchu-Picchu and others were utilized. On return to the states, I also contributed a dozen images to a show Kodak was producing on Peru for its New York City exhibition facility.
The Peru experience was very important experientially to me. I improved my eye and my technique while making a contribution to a magnificent country. It made my introduction to the photographic world in New York, where I went directly after Peru, smoother and natural, opening doors and giving me greater confidence in my abilities to produce and compete.
Dick Swift (November 2007)