La Ciudad en las Nubes (City in the Clouds)

Claudia Ruiz Gustafson

2020 - Ongoing

Cusco, Peru

In this project, I reflect upon the impact of Hiram Bingham’s expeditions to Perú. A Yale University historian. Bingham was one of many western white men to lead colonial explorations between 1911 and 1915 using the advancement of science as an excuse to plunder ancient indigenous cultures. Using my photos made during a trip to the Caminos del Inca (Inca Trails) in 1998, alongside archival documents, this work retells the official version of the “discovery” of Machu Picchu.

Financed by the National Geographic Society and Yale, Bingham is credited with the “discovery” of Machu Picchu. He was not an archeologist and there were no archeologists accompanying him. Bingham and his team dissected the Quechua community and looted sacred graves under the guise of archeological research. They ignored the Quechuas except as guides to find the ruins, to do the excavation work, and as subjects to study for anthropometry. None of the expeditions considered the local people who for centuries lived nearby and who were familiar with the nearby ruins. In fact, Machu Picchu was discovered years earlier by a local farmer named Agustín Lizárraga Ruiz.

Over the course of his expeditions, Bingham took 12,000 photographs with cameras donated by Kodak. For Yale, he collected hundreds of human remains and artifacts. These photographs were published in Harper’s Magazine and National Geographic who held the exclusive rights to them, and Machu Picchu went on to become a discovery of science and the property of Yale University as its custodian. In recent years, Peruvians have been awakened to our own heritage and have demanded the return of certain artifacts. In fact, in 2012 Yale University returned a third batch of several relics to their rightful owners, the people of Perú.

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  • The framing of Machu Picchu

  • Between the bullet and the lie

  • The dream of the pongo

  • Ancestor worship

  • 50 cents

  • Enrique Porres

  • Postcard Perfect

  • Bingham and Co.

  • Before Bingham

  • Impossible History

  • God, riches and status

  • Soul thieves

  • Imperialist shutter

  • Field work

  • Not remarkable

  • The romantic savage

  • After Bingham

  • A lab for Kodak

  • Smile, and point at the mountain

  • Potential History