The photography of Chilean great Sergio Larraín on show at last

Highly acclaimed but deeply private, the former Magnum agency star refused to allow his work be shown in Chile during his lifetime.

Sergio Larraín’s captivating work is now on display in Santiago. Photo via Gobierno de Chile
Sergio Larraín’s captivating work is now on display in Santiago. Photo via Gobierno de Chile

Sergio Larraín has long been considered by the world as one of the great photographers and arguably the best to have emerged from Chile, yet his work has never been shown in his home country — until now.

A retrospective at Santiago’s Museo de Bellas Artes is finally lifting the lid on the acclaimed artist, bringing to light years of work never before seen in the Andean nation due to Larraín’s explicit desire to remain out of the spotlight.

On display now are 157 black and white photographs taken from 1950-1960s across Chile, Bolivia, Peru and several European cities. The images capture normal moments in the lives of regular people, a favorite subject for Larraín.

“The exhibition has had a great impact, mainly because people have heard talk of [Sergio Larraín] as a great photographer, though Chileans did not know his work,” Verónica Besnier, cultural advisor of the retrospective at Museo Bellas Artes, told The Santiago Times. “Now this retrospective is showing the best of Larraín’s twelve years of photography.”

Larraín was born in Santiago in 1931 and studied photography at the University of Michigan in the United States. In 1959 he was accepted into the prestigious and exclusive Magnum Photos cooperative with whom he traveled the world photographing the United States, Europe and the Middle East before returning to his native Chile.

In his later years he settled down in Northern Chile, focusing on yoga and Eastern philosophies, living a relatively isolated life. Following his death in 2012, art historians have worked to make his work visible to his fellow Chileans.

“Twelve years passed between first speaking with him and starting work on the exhibition,” Bresnier said, “I had to have a lot of patience, he didn’t want anything to do with photography. He didn’t want to display his work, it was intensely personal and he knew that if he showed his work in Chile he was going to expose himself and that people wouldn’t respect the life that he had chosen to live, a life of contemplation, meditation, yoga and poetry.”

Now the pieces are open to the public at the Museo de Bellas Artes in downtown Santiago through July 15. The exhibition will then travel the country with stops in Concepción, Punta Arenas and La Serena.