Past Present Peru.
By John Cohen.
Steidl, 2010. 284 pp., Two volumes, illustrated throughout, 3 CDs and 5 DVDs, all slipcased, 10¾x11".
John Cohen is a photographer, musician and filmmaker who has cultivated a fifty-year long fascination with the people,
cultures and landscape of Peru. Cohen took his first photographs in Peru in 1956 and has returned many times since
to continue documenting, adding musical and film recordings to his still images. Cohen’s photographs, stored for
years in boxes in a barn near his home, and the music, today archived at the Smithsonian Institute, have not been
published in their entirety until now.
Past Present Peru combines photographs, textiles, music and film in an ambitious book object. The photographs are
for Cohen a “fragmented collection of visual insights, a record of deepening awareness” that depicts the diversity of
Peruvian life including religious festivals, potato farming, and the recent introduction of hydroelectricity. The textiles,
reproduced in luscious colour, embody pre-Columbian craft traditions more than 5,000 years old. Cohen began
recording music in Peru in 1964, using a portable tape recorder to capture performances wherever he could: at
festivals, in villagers’ homes, even waiting at a bus stop. Cohen’s films are about “a sense of things that weren’t
expressed in words”, and are themselves a unique historical record.
The unifying thread between the different media of Past Present Peru is Cohen’s own writing – anecdotal, precise,
historically informed – words that capture the past and present of Peru, and anticipate its future.
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