El Ojo Fino / The Exquisite Eye. Nine great women photographers of Mexico

Graciela Iturbide (1979), Our Lady of the Iguanas. Witcliff Collection

We all know famed photographers Edward Weston and Tina Modotti who moved from California to Mexico City in the 1920s to make Mexico’s highly active artistic scene their creative base. But Weston was an American and Modotti, an elusively identifiable international artist with Italian roots. The general public hardly knows the Mexican photographers who built the vibrant tradition of photographic imagemaking that permeated Mexican cinema and art and was so influential in modern Mexican society and culture.

This traveling exhibit, initiated and organized by the Witcliff Collection of Southwestern & Mexican Photography at Texas State University San Marcos (curator Connie Todd) provides the essential building block in knowing a less acknowledged side of Mexican art, the work of women photographers of three generations who are the pillar of the photographic interpretation of Mexican history and identity. They start with Lola Alravez Bravo, Kati Horna and Mariana Yampolski, mentored by or somehow related to Manuel Alvarez Bravo, one of the pioneers of Mexican photography.

These first three women were the trailblazers of women’s photographic art in Mexico and in their own right, they were as international as most of the artists themselves who contributed to Mexico’s cosmopolitan artistic life. Kati Horna came from Hungary and after her work with Robert Capa and the Spanish Civil War. Yampolsky, of German-Russian origin, came with artistic training from University of Chicago. Their angle of representation of Mexican indigenous people and traditions as well as political events and daily life gives the viewer across the decades a rich, multifaceted idea of Mexican identity: tender and mysterious, forceful and dignified.

The second generation of photographers, Graciela Iturbide, Yolanda Andrade,  Flor Garduno and Alicia Ahumada, build on that work to search for the universality of Mexican-based images. Graciela Iturbide, for example, one of the most published women photographers in the world today, both inspires and unsettles the viewer with her rather surrealist images with – often – a supernatural allusion, such as “Ojos para volar / Eyes to Fly with” (1991) and “El Senor de los pajaros / The Lord of the Birds” (1985). If you are looking to buy just a single book by a Mexican photographer, one of her impacting monographs is probably your best bet.

Maya Goded, of the youngest generation of artists, focuses on the uniquely feminine figures, experiences and spaces in today’s Mexico such as beauty shops and prostitutes. Her current work on curanderas, partially included in this exhibit, promises to connect her to the first generation’s search for Mexican identity. Her images are lyrical and mystical at the same time and suggest some unsuspected supernatural power in disenfranchised Mexican women.  Documentarist Angeles Torrejon, on the other hand, focuses on the point of view of women and children in the politically fervent Zapatista areas of Mexico and the timelessness of her photos comes from the timelessness of her subjects, suspended in history somewhere between Precolumbian times through the Mexican Revolution to the forgotten present. Her photograph, “El columpio / The Swing” (1992) is one of these images, menacing and wondrous in its innocent sweetness.

You can see this exhibit until November 24, 2010 at the Latino Cultural Center in Dallas.

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