There are a series of photo albums of Views of Chile from the late nineteenth century to mid-twentieth century preserved in museums, private and/or University photographic archives that through images crystallize the configuration of our landscape, culture and national identity. At that time, the albums represented the birth of a new and specialized form of communication. Chile, along with the rest of the world, began its production of these albums as a form of advertising to present its landscape culture. Currently, they are part of the national iconographic heritage and show the evolutionary processes of Chilean territory and landscape. However, the history of Chilean photography indicates that the first physical album is unknown.
In 1856, the photographer and painter Víctor Deroche together with the history painter Augusto Beauboef presented the first Photographic Album of Chile at the National Industry Exhibition in Santiago entitled: Picturesque Trip through the Republic. They conceived the idea a year before. To obtain support, they gave President Manuel Montt photographs of the Cathedral of Santiago and Peñalolén Park proposing a photo album of views, which would have the following characteristics:
“Just by viewing, one would feel transported to those same places, such is the fidelity of photography in the degree of perfection we propose to use, and helped along with drawing and coloring (by Monsieur Auguste Beauboef), the photography will allow us to multiply the copies to reach all the demands of the public “(1).
(1) Rodríguez, V. H. (2001). Fotógrafos en Chile durante el siglo XIX (Photographs in Chile during the nineteenth century). Santiago, Chile: Centro Nacional del Patrimonio Fotográfico (National Center for Photographic Heritage). p.31
Thus, in February 1856, the French Deroche and Beauboef embarked on their journey to the south of Chile to carry out their photographic work. Their first destination was Talcahuano, and by March they were already in Concepción. During April and May they traveled through the region of Nacimiento, Biobío and La Frontera, and upon returning to Concepción again, they embarked back to Valparaíso with a precious cargo of images from the south of Chile. When Deroche settled back in his studio in Santiago, located in Bandera and Huérfanos, he offered the public the views and panoramas of the South, as well as collections of human portraits that had also emerged along the way (2). Moving forward in time, at the National Exhibition of September 1856, Deroche and Beauboef presented a collection of photographs on paper from the cities of Constitution, Talcahuano, Concepción, Tomé, Nacimiento, Los Angeles and Valdivia. In addition, they exhibited numerous portraits of Araucanos [mapuches]. This showing garnered awards and praise from the public, but did not receive the support requested from the Government (3).
(2) Rodríguez, V.H (2001). Fotógrafos en Chile durante el siglo XIX (Photographs in Chile during the nineteenth century). Santiago, Chile: Centro Nacional del Patrimonio Fotográfico (National Center for Photographic Heritage). p.31
The effort, the daring, and the technical knowledge to carry out this work of The Picturesque Trip through the Republic marks a singular moment in the chronology of Chilean photography and landscape. Although to date, the fate of the album and its photographs remains unknown, its achievement is fundamental in two aspects. First, it triggered the proliferation of Chile’s photographic albums nationally and abroad. Second, through its images, the important work of creating a register of the State and its national territory was begun. Furthermore, in this way and beyond photography, the album created a graphic narrative, revealing the value of the landscape at the time of building our nation and with it our identity.