Foto Pres 2007 catalogue

Catalogue of the  Foto Pres 07 exhibition at Caixa Forum, Barcelona

Aicuña, “the mysterious village of the albinos”

Aicuña is a tiny village in La Rioja province, in Northwest Argentina, known to the people of the area as “the mysterious village of the albinos”. At least that is how they advertise it in the tourist guides that invite you to take the 20-hour bus ride from Buenos Aires to visit it. According to research carried out at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, there is one albino in every 17.000 people in the world. There are currently 300, or maybe 350 people living in Aicuña; four of them are albinos. But the figure that has given the village its strange fame is this: since the end of the 19th century, 46 albinos have been born in Aicuña, as the geneticist Dr Eduardo Castilla shows in his (not yet published) book, Aicuña. Estudio de la Estructura Genética de la Población [Aicuña: A Study of the Population’s Genetic Structure]. It appears that the high percentage of albinos in this group stems from the state of isolation the village has lived in during the nearly 350 years of its existence, which has led to this society being essentially endogamous. In fact, at least eight out of ten people are called Ormeño (a rather unusual surname in Argentina). The people of Aicuña, however, resist all attempts to simplify their history. They distrust strangers and it bothers them that they should only be known to the outside world as a “mysterious village of albinos”. And it bothers them even more that the outside world should come and stare at them as if they were a freak show.

The photographer Paola de Grenet and the journalist Toño Angulo Daneri travelled to Argentina and spent 20 days living with the people of Aicuña and of other villages in the area. They interviewed about 60 people. They took pictures of about 30.