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EL OJO FINO. CONTEMPORARY WOMEN PHOTOGRAPHERS FROM MEXICO

Southeast Museum of Photography, Daytona
28.02.2014 - 25.05.2014

The nine great women photographers from Mexico represented in this exhibition combine very personal and often visionary responses to the social realities around them in images that are often harsh, mysterious and beautiful. These three generations of Mexican women photographers are uniquely connected over a span of three generations and an entire century. Mentors, friends, colleagues- all of them artists of great individuality and passion include Lola Álvarez Bravo, Kati Horna, Mariana Yampolsky, Graciela Iturbide, Flor Garduño, Yolanda Andrade, Alicia Ahumada, Ángeles Torrejón, and Maya Goded. Each with a camera and “exquisite eye,” these photographers share a finely tuned way of seeing the truths, visions, and enigmas of their beloved Mexico. Their connections are revealed by a discreet homage, a borrowed element, or by overlapping spiritual territory.

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© Nuestra Senora de las Inguanas (Our Lady of the Iguanas), 1980. Image by Graciela Iturbide

From Lola Álvarez Bravo, one of the most prominent of the first generation of women photographers in Mexico, to Graciela Iturbide, with an international reputation as one of Mexico’s premier contemporary photographers; this exhibition presents the work of a unique sisterhood of artists. Their subjects range from the 1994 Zapatista uprising in Chiapas to the gritty street life of Mexico City. Compressed urban scenes and the desolation of a landscape that often reflects the condition of the people are matched by eloquent documents of the vernacular architecture of the Mexican countryside, religious shrines, and the abiding subjects of pastoral and village life.

These photographers were the trailblazers of women’s photographic art in Mexico, and were all independent, self-supporting artists; following the example and the spirit of Lola Álvarez Bravo (1905-1993), herself a pioneering figure in the first generation of women photographers in Mexico. Lola Álvarez Bravo and her husband, Manuel, were intimately involved in the Mexican cultural renaissance of the 1920s and ’30s; she was part of a circle of friends and colleagues that included Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Jose Clemente Orozco.

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© Diego Rivera by Lola Álvarez Bravo

This vibrant and influential circle built the dynamic traditions of photographic image-making that permeated Mexican cinema and art of the time, and which was very influential in modern Mexican society and culture. In the 1960’s, Mariana and Manuel Álvarez Bravo—first husband of Lola— were mentors to Graciela Iturbide. Kati Horna, in her turn, was mentor to Flor Garduño in the late 1970’s and 80’s, as were Yampolsky and don Manuel. The great technician and printer Alicia Ahumada, assisted both Yampolsky and Iturbide.

The second generation of photographers, Graciela Iturbide, Yolanda Andrade, Flor Garduño and Alicia Ahumada, continued the search for the universality of Mexican-imbued iconography and images. Graciela Iturbide, for example, one of the most published women photographers in the world today, both inspires and unsettles the viewer with her deeply poetic, allusive, and at times surrealistic imagery like “Ojos para volar / Eyes to Fly with” (1991) and “El Senor de los pajaros / The Lord of the Birds” (1985).

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© “Reyes de cana (Kings of Cane)”, 1981, Image by Flor Garduño

First Generation: Lola Álvarez Bravo, Kati Horna, and Mariana Yampolsky

The women featured in El ojo fino share many influences, but one stands above the rest: Italian photographer Tina Modotti, whose life and work had a catalytic and lasting impact on Mexican women photographers, especially Lola Álvarez Bravo and Mariana Yampolsky. During her years in Mexico, Modotti worked as an independent freelance photographer-one of the first women to do so. Modotti’s life and career opened the door for these women.

Lola Álvarez Bravo is the most prominent of the first generation of Mexican women photographers and the first to follow Modotti’s lead as a freelancer. Bravo and Modotti were good friends; Bravo inherited Modotti’s Graflex camera following her expulsion from Mexico. Bravo is credited with being an honest observer, empathetically training her lens on people from all walks of life. During the latter half of the twentieth century, Bravo was in great demand as a portrait photographer, and her images of the elite and cultural avant-garde comprise some of her strongest work. Establishing herself as a professional did not come easy. Early in her career Bravo stated, “I was the only woman that ran around the streets with a camera, at sports events and the Independence parades, and all the reporters made fun of me. That’s how I got tough.”

Kati Horna began her professional career in Paris in the 1930s, and continued as a photojournalist during the Spanish Civil War, emigrating to Mexico in 1939. She met Lola Álvarez Bravo soon after her arrival and, like her, became a freelance photographer, an influential teacher of photography, and a strong role model through her dedication to an active career. Horna’s commercial work was wide-ranging and she was an early creator of the photographic series in Mexico City.

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©  Kati Horna in collaboration with Wolfgang Burger, Serie Hitlerei, 1937. Gelatin silver print, 16.8 x 12 cm. Archivo Privado de Fotografía y Gráfica Kati y José Horna.

Mariana Yampolsky was another immigrant, arriving in Mexico City from the United States in the late 1940s. Inspired by her knowledge of Tina Modotti’s life and career, Yampolsky was drawn to Mexico after graduating from the University of Chicago. She was captivated by Mexico’s vivid colors and the revolutionary ideals of the famous Taller de Gráfica Popular (Popular Graphic Arts Workshop). Beginning as an engraver at the Workshop, Yampolsky later studied photography with Lola Álvarez Bravo. The two remained close friends until Bravo’s death in 1993. As Modotti had mentored them, this generation-Bravo, Horna, and Yampolsky-became mentors and teachers to later generations of women photographers.

Second Generation: Graciela Iturbide, Flor Garduño, and Yolanda Andrade

Lola Álvarez Bravo, Kati Horna, and Mariana Yampolsky-three intrepid and talented artists-set the stage for Graciela Iturbide, Flor Garduño, and Yolanda Andrade. During the 1960s, Iturbide was influenced by Yampolsky. In turn, Flor Garduño worked with Horna and Yampolsky during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Both Iturbide and Garduño often joined Yampolsky in capturing images of the landscape or rural towns outside of Mexico City. Graciela Iturbide’s photographs of indigenous cultures in remote regions of Mexico blur the boundaries between photojournalism, poetic sensibility, and magic. Iturbide’s images have been called “anchored fictions and elusive documents.” Many of her subjects, while modern, also practice a fusion of pre-Columbian and Christian religious customs and rituals. She is respected for her ability to use photography in revealing the “humbleness and grace of human gesture.”

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© “Mujer angel (Angel woman)” 1979, Image by Graciela Iturbide

Studying at the San Carlos School of Fine Arts in Mexico City, Flor Garduño met her most influential teacher and mentor, Kati Horna. Horna taught Garduño first to cultivate good ideas, and then find a way to express them. Other significant influences were Yampolsky and Manuel Álvarez Bravo. Garduño worked as his assistant and later was hired by Yampolsky at the Ministry of Education to go on photographic assignments to remote Mexican villages. Garduño often photographed with Yampolsky and Iturbide in the pueblos and countryside of Mexico. Garduño’s images of landscapes and indigenous people closely follow in the tradition of her mentors through her strong composition and sensitive portraits.

Returning to Mexico City after study in the United States during the 1970s, Yolanda Andrade became part of the contemporary Mexican photography movement. Andrade is a documentarian-she walks the streets of Mexico City photographing people engaged in public events, ceremonies, festivals, or activities of everyday life. In the process she has created an intimate portrait of the great city itself. Andrade’s background in theatre is also evident in her gaze, whether conveyed by the subject of the image or by the drama of the moment.

Third Generation: Alicia Ahumada, Ángeles Torrejón, and Maya Goded

Much like the women before them, Alicia Ahumada, Ángeles Torrejón, and Maya Goded find new territory for future generations of women to explore. Goded and Torrejón have focused on the people-particularly the women-of Mexico in very distinct settings. Ahumada captures people, but turns her eye to the landscape and architecture as well.

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© ‘El bosque erotizado’: photography by Alicia Ahumada and text by Alberto Ruy Sánchez

Alicia Ahumada is recognized as one of the best photographic printers in Mexico, a position of high status. She has printed for many of the country’s leading photographers, including Yampolsky, Iturbide, and others. Ahumada often traveled with Yampolsky to photograph landscapes and rural areas. In her own work-greatly influenced by Yampolsky and Manuel Álvarez Bravo-Ahumada conveys a love of nature, a keen interest in people from the country, and a passion for vernacular architecture.

Maya Goded shares similar interests, creating deeply personal and socially relevant documentary series that feature women. Her subjects range from an isolated mulatto population in Mexico, to her recent series of photographs and interviews with prostitutes in the Merced neighborhood of Mexico City. Much of Goded’s work is influenced by her mentor, Iturbide, whom she accompanied on a trip to Eastern Europe to observe her working techniques.

© Maya Goded, Mexico 

Ángeles Torrejón’s travels have taken her to Chiapas before and after the Zapatista Revolution in 1995. There, she photographed the daily life of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) and area Indian sympathizers, particularly the women and children. In her many series of images, she is concerned with the human condition, exhibiting a sincere compassion for human solidarity. She is among a group of photographers revitalizing photojournalism in Mexico, combining aesthetic experimentation and social commitment.

The nine women in this exhibition each have the distinction of creating powerful friendships and serving as examples for younger generations. They have traveled together, conversed, and have been both teachers and students. They share a curiosity about what it means to be a woman in the modern and the primitive worlds. They are all strong artists and are able to stand alone in their work. Together, they are a formidable Mexican voice that will speak with universal resonance through the twenty-first century and beyond.

© Southeast Museum of Photography

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