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The distant thunder: lingering images of the Huallaga River
- Richard Kernaghan
The Huallaga River of Peru was scene to a counterinsurgency war that in the 1980s converged with a cocaine boom. Later, when the war had largely withdrawn and when the region’s inhabitants narrated events of that increasingly remote history, the Huallaga River appeared as a force: one that set boundaries but also intervened in the trajectories of a multifaceted violence. This essay examines how the attributes of that river, both topological and sensori-material, came to be expressed in images, which circulated in times of post-conflict. By reading for their obtuse sense, this text connects the images that recurred by means of stories and dreams with those of another sort, this time photographs of the Huallaga River itself, when the war no longer seemed to threaten directly. Here, bringing distinct manifestations of image into conversation with one another permits tracing the uncertainties that cropped up between different effects of reality. It also opens the possibility for listening to the sounds that arrived in the distance, from the previous upheaval, and that would occasionally disrupt the passing of presents belonging now to other times. If ethnography implies responding to empirical worlds, not with a simple repetition that copies what happens, but with new and unexpected approximations, this essay describes and echoes images that endured or that insisted in returning from fieldwork.