Visions in Blanco y Negro

I just wanted to write a few words to call attention to the 20th century  photographic survey “Fotografia Moderna Mexicana” which opened last week at the Museo de Arte de Juarez. This exhbit comes from the collection of the Museo de Arte Moderno in Mexico City, which has one of the largest collections of contemporary Mexican photogrqaphy in the country. This due to the significant expansion of the collection in 2008 and 2010 in large part because of the contribution from the personal collection of the renowned  photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo.

The exhibit is divided into four sections focusing on alternative visions of reality, portraits of Mexican life, documentary and a section involving experimental photography focused on space, architecture and the interplay between man and nature.

Mexican photography was  greatly influenced by experimentalphotographers from outside the country such as Edward Weston, Tina Modotti, Ruth Bernhard, among many others, as well, I suspect, by the arrival of surrealists like Andre Breton and crew who set up shop in Mexico and who has been famously quoted as saying Mexico is a perfect place for a surrealist because the whole country is surreal. In any case, experimental photographers in the 20’s and 30’s attempted to establish not only a personal vision but also to form an aesthetic not in imitation of painterly norms, but rather formed by the unique qualities inherent in the medium.  Viewing these early works is a reminder that while many people complain that photos are so often manipulated and so relatively easily altered these days, that we can no longer believe that the scenes we are seeing are “real’, the process of manipulating photos or of collaging images  while certainly harder to accomplish was very much a part of early 20th century photgraphy.

It seems that ackson,documantary photography as such, came later: here are photos from the 40’s and 50’s, showing such scenes as Roderigo Moya’s Guerrilla fighters in Venezuela, and Patricia Aridji’s women staring out of  wooden planks which form a prison.

All of these photographs are black and white with the exception of two by Lourdes Grobet and one hand colored photo from the 40’s.

This is a fascinating show for anyone interested in photography, and there are a variety of gems such as Katernia Horna’s surrealist photo “Ascending a Staircase”, which features what looks at first like burned bricks but reveals itself to be a watching face, complete with inset eye.

Also from a purely interesting biographical note is Antonio Garduno’s nude portrait of Nahui Ollin from 1924. This woman was much painted by various important artists in the 20’s and so here it is interesting to see her in the flesh, so to speak. There are also some well known  photos by both Lola Bravo, Graciela Iturbide, as well as Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Henri-Cartier Bresson and a large number of others whose vision helped shape the nature of photography in Mexico and elsewhere during the 20th century.

The show is scheduled to be on  display until Feb 5. -david sokolec

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