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Jujuy Province

The Suris, also known as Samilantes, are a cultural group within the Quenchua community. This woman is Belén Cruz. Her feathered costume represents the nandu, or rhea, sacred bird of the Suris.

Argentine Identities

A photographer glimpses many cultures in the faces of the country's people.

This story appears in the April 2015 issue of National Geographic magazine.

Argentina is a promised land blessed with incredible beauty and potential. I wanted to create a project that would emphasize its diversity, foster conservation, and empower rural communities to reach their productive and social potential. To support this work, I created a foundation called Biophilia, which means a love for life.

Since I moved here from Italy ten years ago, I’ve seen Argentina’s economy become more and more focused on the large-scale cultivation of genetically modified soybeans. This is tragic, in terms of both culture and biodiversity. I felt the need to do something about this by working to create an alternative approach to a more sustainable future.

So on December 27, 2013, my wife, Juli, and I began a five-month journey across the country. We worked with rural farmers and small-scale food producers to select, conceive, and shape a specific set of projects in four different Argentine regions: the northwestern Altiplano, the northeastern Mesopotamia, the Gran Chaco, and Patagonia. During that research period we produced this series of photographs.

I was tired of pictures that depicted farmers—which all of these people are—as poor, as digging in the dirt. Because I wanted to portray them differently, I chose to focus on their cultures. That’s why I asked the Suri girl and the two Diablos to dress in traditional ceremonial or carnival apparel for their portraits.

Ultimately, Biophilia’s goal is to help these indigenous groups preserve their cultural heritage by developing their own local economies through native products, like potatoes, quinoa, and vicuña wool. Eventually we hope to help them develop brands, so that they can commercialize their products and participate in the fair trade market.

The trick is to connect each group’s productive potential directly to the enhancement of the natural landscape. At the same time, it is crucial that we take into serious account cultural identity, which is so important to Argentina’s diversity.

Working with these communities has been an enriching experience. If we keep our hearts open and respect every culture, there are lessons to be learned every day.