Geometry and Roofs, Re-Seeing Cusco

You see a place. The first time it strikes you with a jumble your eye seeks to order and soon it fits into a visual language that you know.

If this is true for ordinary people, it is also true for photographers as they learn to see a place. Even if they photograph it until they feel there is nothing new, it still fits into a visual language. Like all languages, however, this one hides some things while seeing others.

I sought to see Cusco differently and find a different language. I was not looking at its people, not at its colorful fiestas and street life. Nor was I looking at the romantic scenes of its white, adobe walls, blue balconies and windows, and orange tiles under blue-green eucalyptus and a changing sky. I did not see the llamas in its streets nor the ukukus bringing order in feasts.

Its food tastes wonderful, often redolent of huacatay and much meaning, but I did not look at food through the lens though I certainly ate it.

Instead, my eye was captured by two things: the city’s roofs and its geometric shapes.

Roofs stand between the world inside and below and the world outside and above. As a result, they are important boundaries and barriers. The city is filled with Inca walls but there is nary an Inca roof for the sun to bake or the rain to pelt.

Yet throughout the city, roofs are pastures for grazing ceramic bulls who snort and barrel in metaphor as they guard that which separates family and sky.

I wanted to see what would happen if I made these—a space between, a kind of thaypi, meeting ground—the focus of photos, instead of emphasizing living, business, or natural space. I wanted to see roofs in context and, indeed, doing so changes the way the city looks and how it can be seen.

Because of this focus, geometry, the shapes of masses against masses, and the way one shape frames another against Cusco’s bright and stunningly azure, dry season sky. Of course, this relation of mass to mass in complex shapes forms Cusco’s Inca stone walls.

Geometry is not just interior to the walls, however, but can also be seen in the ways roofs relate to each other and to other buildings, a landscape of mountains, cliffs and valleys right there, on the other side of the space where people laugh and sleep, watch TV and play Candy Crush. The geometry is not just of the natural world around them, but in what they have built to mark an encounter between themselves and the great above and around.

These photos were simply taken with my iPhone 6 as I lived in the city for several weeks recently and have not been reworked. The only Adobe here is in many of the walls.

My way of seeing the city and the visual language I use has now changed.


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