Elie Gardner and Oscar Durand moved to Lima, Peru, in 2010, and every time they flew in or out, they noticed a large farmland by the airport. The husband and wife photojournalists began to wonder why there was so much land in the middle of an urban area, and who lived there, and why.
One night they saw a story about it on the news. The government was taking back the neighborhood called “El Ayllu,” and relocating 350 families in order to expand the airport.
In Incan times “ayllus” were small, self-sufficient communities known for their collective labor and kinship. Gardner and Durand learned that this particular piece of land was once home to the grand Hacienda San Agustin that belonged to one of Lima’s most powerful and rich families. Some of the buildings dated back to the 16th century.
The two decided to make portraits of the residents and their homes to document a small piece of Lima’s history before it was permanently destroyed.
“I love historic photos of cities, and I sometimes I wish I could see for myself what those places used to be like,” said Durand via email. “Doing this photographic series allowed me to do just that. Walking on [El Ayllu’s] unpaved streets I could see remnants of its past; it was a little bit like being able to travel back in time.”
Durand and Gardner gained an introduction to El Ayllu through a filmmaker who was working on a documentary there, and made 14 trips to the neighborhood over few months time.
The two photographers worked together, both making portraits in the field, and collaborating later on the edit. They took prints back to the residents as a way to say ‘thank you,’ and were overwhelmed by the positive response.
“The residents were going through a very emotional time,” said Gardner. “Most had lived their entire lives in El Ayllu. In the beginning we were knocking on doors, but it wasn’t long before people were coming to us to request a portrait and inviting us into their homes.”
Gardner says the warm welcome was especially poignant for her and Durand.
“Lima can be an aggressive city to work as a photographer and doing this project reminded us that there are good people everywhere,” she said.
“Never in our photographic past have we felt so accepted by a community. They fed us (and fed us and fed us some more!), helped us deliver photos to families who had already moved and treated us as part of their community.”
The residents of El Ayllu were compensated by the government to buy new homes and land, but Gardner doubts they’ll be able to replicate the sense of community, or sense of history, of the neighborhood they left behind.