Paola Jiménez Quispe wins the Female in Focus 2021 award in the Stories Category

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The series comprises archival images, unpublished works from her late father, and reflections on loss and mourning

Paola Jiménez Quispe was just five years old when her father was murdered and found in a car. He left behind a series of photographs, a devastated family and an unanswered murder case. Now 29, the Lima-based photographer has spent the last six years piecing these fragments back together.

“This series is an attempt to communicate with my father, getting to know him as a man, father and partner,” says Quispe of Rules for Fighting (Reglas para Pelear) – a Female in Focus 2021 winning series. “As I didn’t have the chance to get to know him much, I had an urge to establish some kind of connection.” The title of the project takes its name from a passage in one of her father’s notebooks – a list of eight instructions to practise effective conflict and resolution. 

Rules for Fighting comprises both personal pages from her parents’ notebooks, textual records of her father’s murder and collages of internet browser windows. Quispe also included images of her family that she took, as well as family photos: her mother pushing a pram on a windy beach in summer; a blurry image of her older sister as a child in southern Peru. All are shot using film or disposable cameras, and all are glossed over with a palpable sense of loss or absence. 

© Paola Jiménez Quispe
© Paola Jiménez Quispe

Quispe’s father died in 1998. But in the years that followed, she was prevented from digging further into his death. “When my father was murdered I couldn’t feel the loss, because my mother didn’t want me to suffer,” she explains. “But it kept me in the dark about my own story.” Because of this, it was only years later that the artist began investigating the case.

While researching, Quispe googled her father’s name and came across a newspaper report and a photograph. “He was covered in blood in the passenger seat of his car,” she recalls. “I recognised his T-shirt as one I had seen him wear.” Since then, she has collected 706 photos taken by her father between 1986 and 1998. These helped her create a timeline of her father’s life and formed the foundations of the series.

In the photographs, Quispe’s lens also turns to nature, roaming along the trees and fields that make up the landscape of her native Peru in a bid to understand her father better. “If you go to Cuzco you’ll find a lot of mountains, and my father and mother loved their birthplace,” she notes. “Until now my family and I had a very deep connection to those roots.” Yet, as expressed in one image, the land is not as it seems. A rich red, which according to Quispe represents the blood and violence associated with her father’s death, stains the “very beautiful place”.

© Paola Jiménez Quispe
© Paola Jiménez Quispe
© Paola Jiménez Quispe
© Paola Jiménez Quispe

“For me, it is very important to try to understand my past to understand my present. Many can say that I’m in a way stuck or nostalgic about it. On the contrary, revisiting my past is very hard, but I believe it is important to find my identity.” 

As well as allowing her to reconnect with her father, the series provided the Peruvian photographer with room to come to terms with her own identity. “For me, it is very important to try to understand my past to understand my present,” she stresses. “Many can say that I’m in a way stuck or nostalgic about it. On the contrary, revisiting my past is very hard, but I believe it is important to find my identity.” 

Everything here, from the intertwining branches to the court case documents, is touched by this sense of personal growth. “Digging into that loss is where I could finally find some kind of peace,” Quispe says. In her meticulous and yet melancholic manner, Quispe has produced a visual representation of her grief, marking a turning point in her quest to move on in her own way.

The Female in Focus 2021 exhibition is on show at Green Space Miami as part of the inaugural Women Photographers International Archive (WOPHA) Congress, from 18 November to 18 January 2022

With thanks to this year’s sponsor: MPB, the world’s largest online platform for used photo and video kit

To find out more about Female in Focus, click here.

Alice Finney

Alice Finney is an arts and culture Editor and Writer, based in Berlin. A graduate of the Central School of Ballet and Sussex University, she specialises in writing about dance, design and popular culture. She has written for titles including SLEEK Magazine, INDIE Magazine, Mixmag, gal-dem, HuffPost UK, and Dezeen.