Photos and text by Adela Hurtado-
It was 2013 in Shanghai, I stood among the ruins of houses once belonging to Chinese families, a long way from my own home. I was born and raised in Miami Beach, Florida, to Peruvian parents, both from the city of Trujillo. Trujillo is known as the “Capital of Culture” in Peru for its many historical sites, dances, and traditions.
My parents took me to the city every year, as a way to instil an appreciation for Peruvian culture in me and to get to know Peru. I wasn’t very interested in much of it all the time, as I had more fun exploring, playing with my cousins, and eating tallarín saltado nearly every day.
Years later, I moved to New York to attend New York University, and I finally had the chance to study abroad in China. It was where I really wanted to go, having been a fan of Chinese culture and literature since childhood. I’d study international relations while abroad and take a photography class for the first time.
Now in Shanghai, I explored the ruins our photography professor showed us as part of a class field trip. The ruins were once old homes in the shikumen style. These shikumen were a mix of European and Chinese architecture that flourished in the early 1900s, especially in Shanghai. At this site they were mostly demolished, now reduced to frames of houses once existing to make way for the new.
What struck me were the personal objects and decorations left behind in the rubble, still existing in vivid colour among the broken stones. For our final project, I went back on my own and took photos of what I could find. These were to become my project, “Shikumen of Shanghai.”
Fast forward to 2016, I am back in Shanghai, this time studying abroad at a Chinese law school. I was completing my Juris doctor degree at Fordham University School of Law and, due to my schedule, my trips to Trujillo became shorter and shorter to nonexistent.
While there, I wondered what happened to the shikumen site, and I skimmed through old emails our
professor had sent us. I found the directions he sent, and I went on my way.
Walking off the subway train, going up the stairs, and making my way outside—I expected to be immediately met with familiar surroundings. However, there was nothing. The entire site was gone. I checked the directions I printed out, but nope, nothing.
My old photos were now pieces of evidence of what once existed. Standing there, checking the directions again and again—that feeling never left me.
The Colors of Trujillo took this feeling to a personal level. Fast forward to 2018, I’ve just graduated law school, took the bar exam, and I’ve taken my lifelong interest in photography and animation more seriously.
My parents were planning their annual trip to Trujillo again, and this time I could finally go. I realized I hadn’t gone in nearly 7 years.
It was wonderful. Walking through the streets with my parents again, eating the tallarín saltado nearly every day, spending time at Huanchaco, the city’s lovely beach—it all came back to me.
My father and I would take time to walk together through the streets, especially the side-streets, and I fell in love with the old buildings around me and their colours. Many were falling apart, and many were still being used. However, their colours were still strong. I couldn’t stop taking photos, listening to my father explain who once lived there, what they used to be, and what they used to look like. I appreciated the stories, and I was grateful for my family’s early attempts for me to appreciate Peruvian culture.
What started as me taking photos of the buildings, listening to my father tell me their stories, turned into something more.
Every year, a building disappears or is in worse shape. Every year I return, I take more and more pictures and have compiled them into a photobook. Now my photos are named after the buildings’ street addresses, and I bring out their colours, imagining what they once looked like. These photos have now turned into “The Colors of Trujillo.”
In 2020, I went back to Trujillo. It was early in the year, and I took more photos for the project. I was even invited by RUNAFOTO, one of Trujillo’s leading photography schools, to speak to their students about my photos from Trujillo and around the world. It was a great experience, with students recognizing buildings they had passed by. The professors said my photos were important for future generations, as many of these buildings may not last very long.
These buildings house countless memories and cultural aspects of days gone by and have adopted new identities over time. What was a personal project turned into more of a public mission to preserve these memories.
Afterwards, En Foco, a Latino arts group in New York, included my project as part of their “Changing Landscapes” exhibition–a great honour for me.
Little did I know that leaving Trujillo in February, I would be leaving a Trujillo that would be radically changed soon afterwards, and that I wouldn’t know when I’d see my father again. He was supposed to return months ago, but with travel restrictions, things have become more difficult.
Trujillo, just as the rest of Peru and Latin America, is dealing with the pandemic. My father shows me videos of his daily life, and I see a Trujillo more different than ever before. Once again, I had caught in my photos a piece of life that was to disappear.
At times, things seem hopeless. However, it’s now more important than ever to remember our culture, ways of life, and how we can grow from the past for the better.
I hope that ways of life in Trujillo, Peru, and its buildings do not become another disappearing shikumen site. I hope that in the future these buildings, their people, and their stories are not only found in my photos but are found still standing strong, still making up the colours of Trujillo.