In the winter of 1948 Penn made the long trip to Peru, for a fashion shoot in Lima. The job done, the editorial team left for New York, but Penn stayed behind and journeyed to the remote town of Cuzco, planning to spend Christmas there. He was immediately enchanted by the inhabitants, 'small, tight little-scale people wandering aimlessly and slowly in the streets of the town...I hungered to begin photographing the people the moment I set eyes on them,' he later recounted. He found and rented a daylight studio, seemingly untouched since the nineteenth century. This large, airy space had a stone floor, an old painted backdrop, and a wall and sloping roof of glass that allowed for a full, indirect, diffused light that Penn found magical and inspiring.
Over the next days he made portraits of many locals. None was more delicate in mood, nor more engaging, than this study of two mountain children in town for Christmas- a brother and sister, barefoot, their faces the picture of bewildered and somewhat diffident innocence, sweet, strange, awkward and charming. Their tiny bodies seem swamped in ill-fitting clothes. They lean toward one another and hold hands, as if for reassurance, across the stool that serves to anchor them.
The picture was published at the time within a portfolio in Vogue devoted to the Cuzco sessions. It was subsequently selected by Penn for inclusion in his first, and arguably most important and influencial anthology, Moments Preserved, in 1960. Through regular publication in a very wide range of contexts it has become one of his best-known images.
Philippe Garner, The Folio Society Book of the 100 Greatest Photographs, The Folio Society, London, 2006