From Alpaca to Cloth in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, Peru / by Anna Watts

Amidst the steep valleys and rainbow-earth colored mountains of Peru’s Andes mountain range live some of the world’s most high quality threads —on the backs of the alpaca.

Peru’s Sacred Valley of the Incas is scattered with villages and a way of life still steeped in culture, history, and artistry that originated with the Inca and is now carried on and adapted by the modern day Quechua people. Organizations like Awamaki Peru provides a modern means of income to a tradition of weaving sculpted by centuries of practice and perfection by the Quechua people.

To document the work of Awamaki Peru, I had the opportunity to witness the process of thread to product. This began with the Yupanqui Mamani Family, who own about 200 alpacas that live nomadically atop a rural mountainside above their village and brought me to the homes of artisans like Mirabel, who transform the fiber to thread and, later, into cloth.

For the outside observer like myself, it is impossible not to be stunned by the level of artistry, skill, and intricacy wrapped into every piece of the process and yet —the story of alpaca fiber to thread to cloth is one of everyday life to these artisans and families.

In my work with other artisan-related nonprofit organizations, I’ve found that many market themselves as a means to raise communities out of poverty or to provide alternate, fairer means of income. This is not to say that this isn’t an admirable mission, but what I admire about Awamaki is how they distinguish themselves from this narrative; their intent is to primarily to showcase the tremendous level of artistry mastered by the Quechua, which can then become a tool to build better, sustainable development among Peru’s indigenous communities. As a photographer, I always seek to partner with organizations that tell these kind of stories that focus on people, not poverty. These are the stories that push us as photographers to craft stronger work —after all, with so much incredible artistry surrounding me, how can I not be inspired to improve my own?