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 1920’s to the 1990’s. It formed in the decades after the Mexican Revolution (1920’s to 1950’s) 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 1920’s, 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 1930’s, 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 the 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 nevertheless.
Below some of my favorite Álvarez Bravo´s images that have inspired many photographers not just in Mexico but around the world:
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 an historian the idea the artist may have considered while making this portrait of a 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 a 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 though “polished by the sea. All the sea have beat upon that cross in the eternal washing of the waves”
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