David Blanco Bonilla / EFE
A photographic history of the War of the Pacific, a conflict between Chile and the joint forces of Peru and Bolivia in the late 19th century, has been rescued by Peruvian Renzo Babilonia in a book documenting the dramatic conflict.
One hundred and twenty images have been compiled in “La Guerra de Nuestra Memoria: Crónica Ilustrada de la Guerra del Pacífico (1879 – 1884),” a book published in Lima, by the Editorial Fund of the University of Sciences and Humanities (UCH).
Babilonia, a university professor and member of the Ibero-American Society of History of Photography, told Efe that his book is intended to describe this historical period from a photographic and journalistic point of view.
A finalist at the 9th International Photographic Art Exhibition in Beijing in 2001, the researcher has compiled scenes of the war’s progression, the battlegrounds, the occupation of Lima, and portraits of different characters of the time.
To obtain these documents he researched archives in Peru and Chile, with support from other countries including Argentina and England.
His work has enabled him to describe how the Chilean army was accompanied by photographers during the military campaign in Peru and Bolivia, a country that participated in the first part of the war.
“The best known among them was the American Edward Spencer, who accompanied and documented the War of the Pacific from the standpoint of the Chilean army,” he said.
Peru did not have photographers to officially document the war, “but several photographic studies were able to document it privately,” he said.
Babilonia recalled that in the late 19th century the works of the Englishman Roger Fenton in the Crimean War and American photographers in the American Civil War were known.
In Peru, the Frenchman Eugène Courret had also documented the defenses of the May 2, 1866 battle, which in Callao faced Lima’s defenders against the Spanish fleet.
Although Chile “has no official documentation that says that these photographers accompanied the army during the campaign,” they had many advantages, he said.
“In these images the photographer is on the scene before and after the battle, not during the event itself; however, it is obvious that there is official support, because among the Chilean celebrations for the conquering of Lima it is known that there is a photo exhibit celebrating Chile’s triumph,” he explained.
According to the researcher, at that time “the photographer had as much power as a filmmaker or a general,” since he could gather hundreds of men to pose for photographs, which were also published in the newspapers and magazines of that time.
Several of these prints were published by the Spanish newspaper “La Ilustración Española y Americana,” since in Spain there was much interest in the situation of its immigrants, in addition to the economic “and emotional” ties to Peru.
“Spain’s participation in the War of the Pacific is so important, there is a photograph and an engraving of the Spanish Company of the Urban Guard, which was formed by members of the Spanish colony in Lima; while the army defended the city against the invasion, the foreign colony formed detachments to protect the internal order of the city,” he said.
Babilonia revealed that his grandfather, a lieutenant general in the Peruvian Army, influenced his interest in that historical period, and that in his work he counted on the valuable support of Chilean researchers and the Ibero-American Society for the History of Photography, which is based in Argentina.
It was in this country that he found a collection of photographic work on the War of the Triple Alliance, in which the joint forces of Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay fought against Paraguay, in the 19th century.
That book, he admitted, was “fascinating” and gave him the foundation for his work on the War of the Pacific, which besides the snapshots also collects one hundred pages of researches, with anecdotes about the uses of photography in this period among both Peruvians and Chileans.
While working on a second edition, he stated that his book is “a contribution” to his country and explained that “in no way” contains “criticism or disrespect to Chile.”
The book of Babilonia will be presented in Lima on March 4, at the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega Cultural Center of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Peru.