Manuel Álvarez Bravo

A photographer’s main instrument is his eyes. Strange as it may seem, many photographers choose to use the eyes of another photographer, past or present, instead of their own. Those photographers are blind” -Manuel Álvarez Bravo

Manuel Álvarez Bravo is probably the most influential photographer in the 20th century in Mexico and Latin America.

Manuel Álvarez Bravo’s photography career spanned from the late 1920s to the 1990s. It formed in the decades after the Mexican Revolution (1920s to 1950s) when there was significant creative output in the country, much of it sponsored by the government wanting to promote a new Mexican identity based on both modernity and the country’s indigenous past.

Although he has been photographing in the late 1920s, he became a freelance photographer full-time in 1930, quitting his government job. That same year, Tina Modotti was deported from Mexico for political activities and she left Alvarez Bravo her camera and her job at Mexican Folkways magazine. For this publication, Alvarez Bravo began photographing the work of the Mexican muralists and other painters. During the rest of the 1930s, he established his career. He met photographer Paul Strand in 1933 at the set of Redes, and worked with him briefly. In 1938, he met French Surrealist artist André Breton, who promoted Alvaréz Bravo’s work in France, exhibiting it there. Later, Breton asked for a photograph for the cover of catalog for an exhibition in Mexico. Alvarez Bravo created “La buena fama durmiendo” (The good reputation sleeping), which Mexican censors rejected due to nudity. The photograph would be reproduced many times after that however.

Below some of my favorite Álvarez Bravo´s images that have inspired many photographer not just in Mexico but around the world:

¨Good Reputation¨sleeping by Manuel Álvarez Bravo

Good Reputation Sleeping (La Buena Fama Durmiendo) photographed by Manuel Álvarez Bravo (1938-1939) is an example of his surrealist work. In 1938 André Breton  requested Álvarez Bravo a photograph for the front cover of a catalogue for an exhibition he was organizing for the Galería de Arte Mexicano in Mexico City, the photograph was rejected by Mexican censors as it contained nudity.

“The Daydreamer” by Manuel Álvarez Bravo

The Daydreamer (El ensueño) was photographed by Álvarez Bravo in 1931, according to a historian the idea the artist may have considered while making this portrait of young girl standing on a balcony with the sunlight innocently hugging  her right shoulder was to guess the girl’s thoughts, as she stood immersed in her own thoughts, clearly unaware of the photographer presence however vulnerable to his camera. Obviously the world of dreams was very important for Álvarez Bravo and the surrealists whom were a great influence in his work.

The crouched ones by Manuel Álvarez Bravo

This image was photographed by Álvarez Bravo sometime between 1932 and 34, it depicts five workers from behind, each seated on an stool, all chained together at the base, within the storefront of a typical Mexican modest lunch counter (comedor), the sun bears down obliquely producing some dramatic, even ominous shadows upon an ordinary scene.

Sea of tears by Manuel Álvarez Bravo

This image was taken by Álvarez Bravo in Cuyutlán in the state of Colima in México in 1939.  The trunk at the based of the post suggest a writhing human form collapsed as in sorrow at the foot of Jesus´ cross.  Elena Poniatowska suggested that the drama of the picture lies in the quality of the driftwood , as thought “polished by the sea. All the sea have beat upon that cross in the eternal washing of the waves”

©All images may be protected by copyright. They are posted in this site in accordance with fair use principles:

  1. it is a historically significant artwork
  2. the images are only being used for informational and educational purposes
  3. the image are readily available on the internet
  4. the image are a low resolution copy of the original artwork and is unsuitable for commercial use

Sources:

Manuel Alvarez Bravo: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum by J. Paul Getty Museum, Manuel Alvarez Bravo

Asociación Manuel Álvarez Bravo AC – link here

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