Latin America Through Old-Time Eyes

THE DAILY PIC: At the New York Public Library, Latin America as seen in photos. Can there be an upside in being the "other"?

THE DAILY PIC: Viewpoints: Latin America in Photographs,” is a huge spread of images from the permanent collection of the New York Public Library, now on show there.

There’s no doubt, as the curators point out, that when early European and American photographers shot the lands south of the U.S. they did so with a big dose of wide-eyed exoticism. It’s not clear, for instance, that when the Americans Henry Moulton and Alexander Gardner published today’s image of Lima, in 1865, they really cared about their subject as much as they cared about striking a chord with American buyers.

Still, I can’t help feel that an exoticizing eye is also an eye that betrays interest, and therefore at least a hint of engagement. As the West’s wealthy center has lost its fascination with the cultures and places on its periphery, it has also been happy to lose contact with them—losing knowledge of their merits and challenges in the process. Poorer lands have become sources of labor and goods, and that’s all we want to know about them.

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