Scenes of Peru: 17 Dec ’05 – 5 Jan ’06

Scenes of Peru first began as a project I was working on for a photography course I took while at Stanford.  Up till then, I spent most of my time in photography taking pictures, instead of arranging and presenting them.  I forced myself to take a step back from the often-mindless snaps of digital photography, to revisit the world of color slides, color printing, color and B&W film and printing – in an attempt at reconnecting with my love for photography.  This body of work is the culmination of that process – my first shot at my dream of publishing a coffee table photo book in my name.  I thought I’d transpose the content from book to web, and hope you will enjoy it as much as I did working on it.


I had initially decided against joining my friends when they asked me along for a 3-week backpacking trip to Peru, during Stanford’s winter break in the December of 2005.  Travel cost estimates came up to about US$2,000 – not a small sum college-going kids could easily afford.  Yet the longer I slept on it, the louder I heard my heart.  This was probably one of my last chances to visit South America before I return to Singapore and join the ‘rat race’.  So I bit the bullet, packed my bags, and transited via Houston, Texas into Panama City, Panama, before arriving at Lima, the capital of modern-day Peru.

Scenes of Peru began as a final project for the Color Photography class at Stanford University.  I took the class to broaden my photographic horizons, which up until then, was limited to the realm of digital photography.  I began as a digital photographer, having had absolutely no film photography experience prior to the purchase of my Canon 20D in December 2004.  Just like most other digital photographers, I had taken a ton of photographs, but have added little value to them apart from showcasing them online.  Instead of settling for the minimum project requirement of 10 prints, I decided to transform the project into a full scale photo book.

Street procession - Lima, Peru

Street procession - Lima, Peru

The arrangement of photographs and writings in this book are my best attempts at portraying my thoughts and emotions while traveling through Peru.  Three weeks is insufficient for anyone to claim knowledge of any country – however large or small.  Yet even in the limited time I was there – the interactions I had with her people (albeit through my poor command of Spanish) and the sights that greeted my eyes and camera – gave me an inkling of the life, culture and history that is República del Perú.  My 20 days in Peru taught me about the Inca empire and the extravagance of Spanish cathedrals, but also brought me face to face with Peru’s present-day ills.  I have made a conscientious attempt to differentiate Streets of Peru with the majority of coffee books you see out in bookstores – this is first and foremost, a book from myself, to myself and my loved ones.

Catacombs - Lima, Peru

Catacombs - Lima, Peru

On that note, the photographs that made it to this book are those that define Peru’s social landscape – its people, places, and a sprinkling of landscape and nature.  A lot of these photographs were made under a tight itinerary and physical constraints.  Unlike coffee table books by professionals, this was not a pure photography trip – I had to carry a significant amount of camera equipment, in addition to necessities for 20 days of travel in my backpack.  In addition, the hard limit of 100 pages by Apple Aperture meant I had to axe countless photos I had initially wanted to show.

I came back with 10 GB of photos, but I probably also missed an equal number. Yet…

A lot of photographers spend their entire lives trying to create the perfect picture. There’s no such thing.  The only thing that’s perfect is the moment.
– Joe Buissink

Perhaps someday I will revisit the Andean highlands.  For now, these photographs (that you will see in subsequent posts) will have to suffice.

To my parents, for whom all would not have been possible otherwise.
11 March 2006

About James Chan

James Chan is an entrepreneur, investor, geek, photographer and husband/father based out of Singapore. Apart from frequent travels to Vietnam, Myanmar and Indonesia for work, James can also be found online via his trusty 15" Retina MacBook Pro or iPhone 6+.