Llamas are amusing. Their faces and glance have a gesture that somehow makes them human. They are elegant, serious, and calm. They also have a very formal posture and they movements are sophisticated. They march as marionettes. In Colombia, the country where I grew up, the llamas are not as popular as in Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia. It is not common to find llamas in the country side or to see farmers domesticating them. however, what is common, is to find them as attractions in fairs and public squares of big cities and touristic sites. Usually, they accompany informal photographers who offer improvised photo-booths to the walkers and visitors. They use the llama as a sort of prop where the client can sit and pose with elegance. The llama acts as a symbol that helps contextualize the altitude of the place and the Andean traditions. Looking more closely to the other iconography that the informal photographers carry with them reveals a sort of trans-latinamerican bricolage that is performed every time one of this portraits is created.
Last month, while visiting the cathedral of Las Lajas at the South of Colombia, close to the border to Ecuador, I saw a group of llamas at the side of the pilgrimage path. The decoration of the llamas called my attention. I have never seen those animals with so much elements, dressed as if they were going to act in an opera. Has ever been a llama in an opera? They had crowns, colorful saddles and necklaces that made them look as if they belonged to a kingdom. Perhaps that decoration is a references to the Reyes Magos de Oriente (the three Kings, Magi, or Wise Men) used in the Belen tradition. The group of llamas called the attention of many pilgrims who were very excited of siting on the top of the animals and posing with them. One of the extra props that the photographers had for the people who wanted to be photographed with these fancy llamas was a mariachi sombrero. As can be observed in the image above, the person who is on the top of the further llama is wearing that hat.
Although the inclusion of a mariachi sombrero in this Andean context could appear surprising, it makes total sense when we think about how the hat is used by Colombian street photographers in other informal photo-booths setups. For instance, it is pretty common to find this kind of Mexican hat as a prop that goes together with ponies and wooden horses (see image below from Plaza de Bolivar in Bogota).
The surprising encounter of llamas, with mariachi sombreros, and middle eastern crowns and saddlers, reminded me of the unexpected ensembles that one can find in latinamerican popular culture. The informal photo-booths are definitely a very interesting place to look for this kind of symbolic encounters, mixtures of traditions and visual remixes. It could be interesting to do a little research on the different scenarios that are performed in front of the street photographers every time people decides to pose with and to wear their diverse props.