For three decades, the work of Chilean photographer Sergio Larrain was seen only by archivists. Now, two years after his death, Larrain’s images are finally getting their due.

FOR CHILEAN PHOTOGRAPHER SERGIO LARRAIN, beauty was in the details: a child’s face, a dog, a reflection. “The perfect photograph is a kind of miracle that appears in a blaze of light,” Larrain wrote. “You press the button almost by chance and the miracle happens.”

Sergio LarrainNow, two years after Larrain’s death, the Aperture Foundation has published more than 200 of his photographs in an eponymous book, and a retrospective of his work curated by the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson is touring the world.

Born in Santiago in 1931, Larrain worked prolifically in the late 1950s and 1960s, with assignments from Magnum Photos and Henri Cartier-Bresson taking him around the globe. Then, in the late 1970s, he stopped. “I feel that the pressures of journalism—the need to be ready to jump on a story at any moment—destroys my concentration and love of work,” Larrain wrote. He retreated to northern Chile to live a life of monastic seclusion, painting, drawing, and practicing yoga.

Sergio LarrainEven at the height of his career, Larrain rarely exhibited his work, and later in his life, he mandated that his photos not be shown until after his death. Agnès Sire, the director of the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, exchanged hundreds of letters with Larrain over the course of 30 years, and she edited the book and curated the retrospective. “It was never his purpose to show a place,” says Sire. “He was not a journalist. He reacted as a poet, as an artist. He wanted to express his feelings in a place.”

All photos were taken in Chile between 1952 and 1963. Photos from the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson are on exhibit at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Santiago, Chile, through July 15. Sergio Larrain is available through the Aperture Foundation. $85, aperture.org

This appeared in the June/July 2014 issue.