“Nocturnal” by Vargas Brothers


Carlos Vargas Zaconet (1885, Perú)
Miguel Vargas Zaconet (1886, Perú)

Art statement

In 1890 Arequipa’s newspapers remarked among the winners of the contest organised by the Art Arequipa Centre a young guy who was just 14, who made the audience felt, first, curiosity and then, because of his charming modesty, dedicated him their claps. That was a key moment for the Peruvian photography history due also to the presence among the winners of the great master Emilio Díaz. The youngest was Carlos Vargas Zaconet, who, at the age of 14, discovered his vocation and the passion to the photography, which would accompany him for his all life. Two generations of photographers who raised the Peruvian photography to the international panorama, were shaking their hands; the baton was given in a formal and brightly way.

Carlos Vargas Zaconet was born in Arequipa on January 27th, 1885. Miguel on October 29th, 1887. In 1912, when the “belle époque” was on its twilight, as the last signs of the romanticism, the Vargas brothers set up their photography studio at the Portal de San Agustín. Soon it became an important cultural centre, where remarkable intellectuals and artists took part. Their smart premises were also used by the best painters for showing their exhibitions. The varied activities organised within the studio by the avant garde intellectuality had a great impact in the city. Polemic speeches, cultural magazines, varied recitals, made it an important tool of motivation and cultural diffusion. The Vargas' sponsorship was recognised by the Arequipa’s City Council, which declared them as “illustrious sons of the city”. The Vargas brothers were “bohemians, smart, subtle seducers”, as the poet Alberto Guillén reminded them. Their achievements in the field of photography were quickly recognised and, within the time, overcame the national sphere. Since 1918 their pictures were shown in international exhibitions in San Francisco (United States), Sevilla (Spain), Buenos Aires (Argentina), La Paz (Bolivia), and published several times in specialized magazines in the continent, such as: Sudamericano de Fotografía in Buenos Aires and El Mundo Gráfico in La Habana. In Perú, the magazines Mundial and Variedades published and reviewed their work. Their pictures also illustrated a varied range of books. Their passion for the art accompanied them all their life but, little time before his death in an interview, Carlos Vargas said that the photography had been “the biggest passion in his life”.

My first memories about Carlos come from my childhood. I was 6 years old when one night, while we were coming back to his home in the dark and without any light that guided us, Carlos, without hesitating, opened the door, thanks to choose the right key despite the lighting conditions and abundance of keys he had on his bunch. I asked him, surprised by such accuracy: How have you found the right key? He answered by showing me a key, it was the biggest one. “This is my guide. From it, the key to open the main door is the one located on the fourth place at the right side, for any other, I always use the principal one as a reference”. Carlos was a tidy and pedagogic with me, I remember him always busy and with an attentive eye. He was an excellent talker, educated, and not exempt of irony. He was also a clever observant. In my last years at the high school, and in spite of the youthful impulse, I used to go to meet him at his home at Vallecito, where I found a wise, cheerful, pleasant and enjoyable old man. On the other hand, Miguel was a sparing and lonely person with an exquisite sensitivity. His rooms were full of wonderful pre-Columbian fabrics, huacos made by the desert kingdoms of the Peruvian coast, pictures, sculptures, and fine furniture. Inside this environment, in his autumnal years, Miguel strolled his solitude. He was considered as smart and neat man. The Vargas’ fraternity was exemplary “Two different characters and only one own way”, as Carlos said. How he complemented their photographic work? It is aid that Carlos was the laboratory and photography technician master and Miguel contributed with his artistic eye. In any case, they also knew how share a singular adventure.

Miguel died on January 7th, 1976, breaking up dramatically the fraternal friendship that joined them since their childhood. The next day, the Pueblo newspaper, in the first page, announced: “Arequipa is mourning. One of the Vargas brothers died”. Carlos, died three years later on July 21st 1979. The Vargas Brothers became an archetype of Arequipa, representing in some way the spirit of the city. Enrique Portugal, in an article published in the newspaper El Pueblo said “first it was the brothers Vargas’ lens, then it was set up the landscape and, in the last term, Arequipa was founded”. Those eyes that stared at “the most beautiful women, the most charged nights, the most intense faces”, were closed on the last of their nocturnal. After then, their pictures attracted the international interest, gaining every day a bigger respect in the photographic landscape.

Jaime Laso Vargas


Produced by:

Instituto Cervantes de Nueva Delhi
48, Hanuman Road (Connaught Place)
New Delhi - 110001
Phone: (+91 11) 43681900

Embassy of Peru in India
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New Delhi-110057
Phone +91-11-46163333