Documentary, Interviews, Photojournalism, Projects

In Paris: Peruvian photographer Musuk Nolte

Juan Miranda's son, moments before his father's burial in the Soras cemetery. On 16 July 1984 a bus from the Cabanino company was doing the usual route towards Soras. In the vehicle were 40 members of the terrorist group Sendero Luminoso. The bus stopped in the towns of Chaupishuasi, Doce Corral and Soras, murdering over 100 people who refused to join their ranks. Over 27 years later the remains of 14 of these people can finally rest in peace in the Soras local cemetery. From the series Open Mourning © Musuk Nolte/Native Agency/Magnum Foundation

With a 20-year project on the legacy of Peru's 15,000 missing and 60,000 dead, the photographer has been invited to speak at The Eyes' talks in Paris Photo

“I think politics affects every decision in daily life – it’s hard to remain on the sidelines,” says Musuk Nolte. “For me, photography is a visual element to work on these very complex issues.

“With all the problems we have in our country, we have the responsibility to leave a visual document,” continues the photographer, who was born in Mexico in 1988 but is now a naturalised Peruvian.”I felt the desire to leave a document of what was going on, that it could serve as a visual and historical record. It was my way of relating to my country, but it’s important that this work also has an impact outside the community.”

A documentary photographer focused on social and political issues, he has been just nominated to join the prestigious Joop Swart Masterclass organised by the World Press Photo, and won a scholarship from the Magnum Foundation to finish his project Open Mourning. It’s a series tackling a difficult episode in Peruvian history – the conflict between the State and a terrorist group called Sendero Luminoso between the late 1980s to the 2000s, which left more than 60,000 dead and displaced many more.

Alejandro Castillo hold a picture of his son Denis; who was missing for more than 20 years; after being kidnaped by a paramilitar group.Early in the morning of May 2; 1992; the paramilitary group 'Colina' kidnapped 9 peasants from the Santa district. After being missing almost 20 years; the remains were found and delivered to their families. This was one the most resounding cases during the dictatorship of Alberto Fujimori; now in jail for human rights violations. ©Musuk Nolte / Native Agency

Alejandro Castillo hold a picture of his son Denis, who was missing for more than 20 years after being kidnaped by the Colina paramilitary group on 02 May 2 1992. Denis’ remains, and those of eight others, were returned to their families after nearly 20 years. From the series Open Mourning © Musuk Nolte/Native Agency/Magnum Foundation

It also left 15,000 people missing, and it’s this aspect that Nolte has focused on in his images. “In 2004 a panel of judges was set up to determine who was responsible [for the disappearances] and how many people died,” he explains. “Some political parties were urging to close the case, but there are still 15,000 victims’ families waiting for justice.

“All countries in Latin America have had experiences with ‘desaparecidos’ [“the disappeared’] during military dictatorships,” he adds, but he points out that these disappearances have a particular resonance in Peru. “In Andean culture, it is very important to have a funeral ceremony with the rest of the family, and to visit the dead every year, bringing them food and flowers.”

Musuk Nolte started work on Open Mourning when he was just 16, initially starting with a single case known as ‘Santa’. In 1992 a patrol burst into a village and nine people were kidnapped in front of their families; these relatives searched for more than 25 years to find their bodies.

He also worked on an event which happened in 1984, and which has become infamous in Peruvian history as the ‘Death Express’. “A bus was doing the usual route towards Soras, a village in the southern part of Peru, but it had 40 members of Sendero Luminoso on board,” he explains. “The bus stopped three times during the journey, killing over 100 people on the way. 27 years later, just 14 of the bodies were delivered to their relatives.”

Jorge Noriega places an offering on the memorial built where his son's remains were found, more than 20 years after his disappearance. Early in the morning of 02 May 1992, the paramilitary group 'Colina' kidnapped nine peasants from the Santa district. This was one the best-known cases under the dictatorship of Alberto Fujimori, who is now in jail for human rights violations. From the series Open Mourning © Musuk Nolte Early in the morning of May 2, 1992, the paramilitary group 'Colina' kidnapped 9 peasants from the Santa district. After being missing almost 20 years, the remains were found and delivered to their families. This was one the most resounding cases during the dictatorship of Alberto Fujimori, now in jail for human rights violations. ©Musuk Nolte / Native Agency

Jorge Noriega places an offering on the memorial built where his son’s remains were found, more than 20 years after his disappearance. Early in the morning of 02 May 1992, the paramilitary group ‘Colina’ kidnapped nine peasants from the Santa district. This was one the best-known cases under the dictatorship of Alberto Fujimori, who is now in jail for human rights violations. From the series Open Mourning © Musuk Nolte/Native Agency/Magnum Foundation

And the photographer has worked on many other episodes from this deeply polarised era, showing violence perpetrated by both the government and terrorist groups. “Those were years when you could choose just to stay with the state or with the terrorists, or you were dead,” he explains.

“I have seen parents who at best were waiting for news of their children for over twenty years. It’s a very deep pain – imagine that after twenty years they encountered the remains of their son. I think one of the hardest moments was seeing the buried bodies, seeing something that they had waited for so long finally happening…In most cases the parents and relatives passed out, such a deep pain emerged at that moment.”

In 2016 a law was passed allowing for searches for the bodies and for systematic, in-depth work on the terrorist cases; at the same time, the government undertook to resolve remaining open cases. Nolte is now trying to finish his project, and is preparing an exhibition for FoLa, the Latin American photo library.

Musuk Nolte is represented by Native Agency musuknolte.pe  

Nephew of the missing Walter Camino Lopez (in the picture); during the placement of commemorative stones in honor of terrorism victims in "El ojo que llora"; a memorial sculpture in Lima. ©Musuk Nolte / Native Agency

Niece of the missing Walter Camino Lopez (in the picture), during a ceremony placing the ‘El ojo due Ilora’ [“the eye that cries] memorial sculpture in Lima, in honour of victims of terrorism. From the series Open Mourning © Musuk Nolte/Native Agency/Magnum Foundation

Relatives of the 11 exhumated bodies; during the burial in the local cementery of Soras.On July 16; 1984; a bus from the 'Cabanino' company was doing the usual route towards Soras. In the vehicle were 40 members of the terrorist group Sendero Luminoso. The bus stopped in the towns of Chaupishuasi; Doce Corral and Soras; murdering over one hundred people who refused to join their ranks. Over 27 years later; the remains of 14 of these people can finally rest in peace in the Soras local cemetery. © Musuk Nolte / Magnum Foundation

Relatives of those people exhumed and re-buried in the local cemetery in Soras. From the series Open Mourning © Musuk Nolte/Native Agency/Magnum Foundation

Alejandrina Valenzuela in front of the coffins of her parents; during the memorial service for 74 people from the district of Chungui; in Ayacucho; in the municipal building of Huamanga. © Musuk Nolte / Magnum Foundation

Alejandrina Valenzuela in front of her parents’  coffins, during the memorial service for 74 people from the district of Chungui. From the series Open Mourning © Musuk Nolte/Native Agency/Magnum Foundation