Recovering the historical memory of Caleta Tortel

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 Panoramic view of Caleta Tortel and the Ventisquero boat, est.1985. Photo: Gerónimo TropaPanoramic view of Caleta Tortel and the Ventisquero boat, est.1985. Photo: Gerónimo Tropa

 
By Tomás Moggia
Translated by Zoe Baillargeon
 
A large collective album consisting of more than 400 photographs was part of the result of "The Rescue and Enhancement of the Cultural Identity of the Tortel Community” project, developed by the ProCultura Foundation to preserve and share the town’s history through the photographic archives of its own families and inhabitants.
 
The effort required six months of field work and the intense participation of residents of Caleta Tortel, which is located near the mouth of the Baker River, in the Aysén region of Chilean Patagonia. The photographs are a reflection of "Tortelino" society, revealing part of its daily identity by showing snapshots of everyday moments, ranging from family and social gatherings to religious celebrations and landscapes. Experiences that bring together both the distant and recent past of this picturesque town, founded in 1955 and characterized by its iconic wooden walkways made from native ciprés de las Guaitecas trees which connect the town’s houses and span the coastline.

Photographed in black and white or color, dating from several decades ago or the present century, the images represent the rescued memory of a people marked since the beginning by isolation, with traditions and customs that emerge in each photograph.

"Through methods that promote meeting and conversation we have compiled histories, photographs and stories that will be converted into public archives available to inhabitants and visitors. This directly affects the cultural value and appropriation of the territory and the history of each place,” explains Alberto Larraín, executive director of the ProCultura Foundation.

Salvador Núñez, coordinator of the project, says that the initiative allowed the inhabitants themselves to build the collective album, so that in the end it is loaded with local memories. "In the selection of images we can observe, for example, popular celebrations such as the Christmas party, where the old boy from Santa Cruz arrived by boat paddling and the children waited in the old Tortel square. This celebration is very common throughout the whole world, but the celebration here is quite unique and particular for the people of Caleta Tortel, "says Núñez.

With its citizens fulfilling an active and participatory role through the collection of the images, part of the social and cultural heritage of the Tortelinos themselves is evoked, and the evolution that has been experienced over time. "This historical record has tremendous relevance for the community of Tortel from the cultural point of view, since it records the history of a locality that was among the last in Patagonia to be colonized. Its inhabitants have a very particular history; Tortel was colonized from the mountain range and not from the sea. From there the gauchos arrived on horseback on the banks of the Baker, and they built their boats themselves and became navigators,” explains Bernardo López Sierra.

The project, which had the support of the Municipality of Tortel and the Regional Government of Aysén, contemplated the digitalization of the images collected, many of which were included in the exhibition "Photographic Memory of Tortel," an exhibition that will be presented for the next thirty days at the "quincho" in tthe center of the town. The exhibit will then travel to different places in the community. In addition, the images are available for viewing on the interactive website www.memoriafotograficadetortel.cl.
 
Below, some of the photos from the exhibition.
 
 
From one of the main viewpoints in town, Sara Miranda poses with Yasna Tropa and Pablo Tropa, est. 1983. Photo: Gerónimo Tropa.From one of the main viewpoints in town, Sara Miranda poses with Yasna Tropa and Pablo Tropa, est. 1983. Photo: Gerónimo Tropa.
 
 
 A barbecue to celebrate the beginning of construction on the bathhouse in central Caleta Tortel, 1978.  Photo: Carmen Rojas Chavez.A barbecue to celebrate the beginning of construction on the bathhouse in central Caleta Tortel, 1978. Photo: Carmen Rojas Chavez.
 
 
Juana Vidal Menco and her children, 1963. Photo: Irma Guelet Vera.Juana Vidal Menco and her children, 1963. Photo: Irma Guelet Vera.
 
 
Sergeant Raimundo García helps collecting wooden poles in Tortel,1976.  Photo: Carmen Rojas Chavez.Sergeant Raimundo García helps collecting wooden poles in Tortel,1976. Photo: Carmen Rojas Chavez.
 
 
Residents of Caleta Tortel transporting a wood stove, 1997  Photo: Gerónimo Tropa.Residents of Caleta Tortel transporting a wood stove, 1997 Photo: Gerónimo Tropa.