My earliest memories of Trujillo came as a result of being “forced” to travel there every summer as a child with my Peruvian parents—no doubt a common experience for other children born to immigrants.
Trujillo, my parents’ hometown, is one of the largest cities in Peru. It was home to ancient civilizations such as the Chimu and Moche, and was eventually founded by the Spanish in 1534. Since then, it has become known as the City of Eternal Spring and the Capital of Culture of Peru. It is home to many traditional dances, numerous colonial buildings, major archeological sites, beautiful beaches, a long religious history, Peru’s original justice system, the first Peruvian proclamation of independence from Spain, and the list goes on.
None of that mattered to me though as a child. I remember arriving at the city’s small airport, sliding down the marble ramps at the Plaza de Armas (the main square), and eating tallarín saltado (marinated spaghetti with meat and onions), my favorite dish, almost every day. I remember wandering around the city streets, playing games at internet cafes with cousins, and drinking fresh orange juice at the mercado central.
I traveled to Trujillo every year and over time developed a better appreciation for it. However, once college, law school, and summer internships came along, I stopped going for as long of periods or as often. It came to a point where I hadn’t gone for almost seven years.
In 2018, I returned. I returned with my family as a recent law school graduate, photographer, and budding animator. It was wonderful. The city was even better than I had remembered. The colors were bursting, but the streets were calm. As I walked around with my father, I kept taking photos of the old, colorful buildings around me, while listening to his stories of what they used to be and who used to live in them. With their stories and their fading colors, a special side of Trujillo came alive.
I came back to New York with these photos, and I looked at what I had. These photos turned into The Colors of Trujillo, a project where I document the changing, deteriorating, and disappearing structures that bring Trujillo to life. I named the photos after the buildings’ street addresses. I also wanted to show what the buildings might have looked like in their glory days, so I brought out their colors. I even started work on a photobook, which you can find here.
My photos are of the buildings, balconies, doors, and details that populate Trujillo. These are not the buildings around the Plaza de Armas, but of smaller streets nearby. They’ve been there for hundreds of years, housing countless memories and cultural aspects of days gone by. Although the buildings are falling into neglect, many still take on new identities, such as stores or homes.
Every year since then, I’ve returned to Trujillo with my parents. Unfortunately, every year something has changed, and not always for the better. Buildings that I had once photographed have fallen further into decay or have disappeared entirely.
This year I was honored to be invited by a top photography school in Trujillo, RUNAFOTO, to speak to their students about my work. The students recognized the buildings they had passed by every day but hadn’t really noticed. The professors commented that my photos are important for future generations because these buildings may not exist a few years from now, so I am capturing history. I appreciated those comments very much.
What was once personal turned into a more public mission to document these buildings and keep their memories and my family’s stories alive. I don’t want my photos to be the only evidence that these buildings and streets once existed.
Upon my return to the States, En Foco, a leading Latino arts organization in New York, invited me to exhibit my Trujillo work with other artists with the shared theme “changing landscapes.” En Foco dedicates itself to helping Latino artists and other artists of color with their work, and they are actively helping artists during these times. They thought my project was a great fit, and it was an honor to show Trujillo in this setting. The exhibition went live here.
On June 18, an artist talk will be posted on their site, where the other artists and I will discuss our projects and how our work has been affected these days.
These times have been challenging for all of us but sharing this photo project is my small way of showing support to the city and to my family. I hope to return to Trujillo soon to explore more streets, learn more stories, and capture more memories. I hope to someday soon be nibbling on tallarín saltado or strolling with my parents, with the buildings as our colorful companions.
I hope that in the future these buildings will not only be found in my photos, but will also be still standing strong, still making up the colors of Trujillo.
All photos: Adela Hurtado