In the early 20th century, a German priest captured some of the most incisive views of a vibrant and vanishing South American culture.
Overview and History
Martin Gusinde (1886-1969) was a German priest and ethnologist for whom photography became an instrumental tool on his travels. He was one of the most notable anthropologists in Chile in the 19th century, exploring foreign lands in a quest to understand the native people and practices that thrived in this particularly harsh landscape. His encounters with the Yamana and Selk’nam people resulted in photographic and audio documentation that is still used today.
Between 1918 and 1924, Gusinde worked extensively in Tierra del Fuego, documenting the native populations there. He integrated himself into their tight-knit communities to gain a comprehensive understanding of their practices, particularly initiation rites and adolescent rituals. While his photographs were primarily used for historical documentation, the aesthetic beauty of their composition reaches beyond the typical limit of the exoticized gaze, bridging the gap between fine art and anthropological research. The painted bodies, traditional decoration and masks worn during the ceremonies he photographed transform his subjects into completely different entities, three-dimensional people rather than objects upon which the viewer gazes.
Gusinde took over 1200 photographs, whose negatives now reside at the Anthropos Institut in Sankt Augustin, Germany. Seven prints have been specially selected for this limited edition of 30 portfolios designed through the collaborative efforts of the Paris-based Éditions Xavier Barral and the Benrido Studio. The 24 x 33 cm prints were produced by colloytpe on fine art pulp paper by the master printers at the Benrido Atelier.
Included with this portfolio is the French publication of the book entitled, “L’Esprit des Hommes de la Terre de Feu, Selk’nam, Yamana, Kawésqar” [The Spirit of Men in Tierra del Fuego: Selknam, Yamana, and Kawesqar] (Éditions Xavier Barral, 2015). Written by Gusinde, the book, which sheds light on the traditions and lives of the little-known Selk’nam people, is a perfect accompaniment to the photographs.
As part of the 2015 Kyotographie photography festival in Kyoto, these images will be on view at the Paper Tube Pavilion, Kyoto City Hall Open Square from April 18-May 10.