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Graciela Iturbide: Visionary Ethnographer

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The New York Review of Books

by Christopher Alessandrini | 30 MARCH 2019

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Consider the chickens, roosting at a vendor’s feet as he reads the daily news; or a semi-circle of women clutching freshly plucked carcasses—wings outspread, headless, then bundled and hung. In the photography of Graciela Iturbide, animals appear in various stages of preparation: walleyed fish dangle in pairs; severed goats’ legs herringbone across a spread of drying mats. Iguanas wreathed around a woman’s stoic face—like tentacles, or the rays of an aureole—are destined for soup. The woman in this final, famous image, Our Lady of the Iguanas (1979), is Zobeida Díaz, a vendor in the Oaxacan town of Juchitán, vaulted from the market’s everyday bustle into the realm of myth. 

In “Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico”—a magnificent exhibition of approximately 125 gelatin silver prints at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston—five decades of an extraordinary visual intelligence are on display. Winner of the Hasselblad Award (2008) and Cornell Capa Lifetime Achievement Award (2015), Iturbide has exhibited internationally for most of her career, but this is her first solo museum show on the East Coast since a modest traveling retrospective opened at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1998. Curated by Kristen Gresh in close collaboration with Iturbide, the show celebrates the museum’s recent acquisition of thirty-seven photographs, including two gifts from the artist. It is an overdue reintroduction to one of the world’s great photographers.

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Born in 1942, the eldest of thirteen children in a prosperous Catholic family, Iturbide originally wanted to be a poet. She was already twenty-seven, a mother of three and a recent divorcée, when she enrolled at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, determined to study cinematography. But her vocation shifted again after the death of her young daughter, in 1970, when she began to obsessively photograph dead infants, or angelitos, laid out in tiny white coffins. One day, documenting a funeral, she found an adult cadaver sprawled across the cemetery path, skull and torso picked clean. “There were many birds in the sky,” she recounted. “The ones that had been pecking on the man.” It was the moment she decided to stop photographing angelitos. “I felt that Death was saying to me, ‘Enough!’”

Ever since, flocks of birds have served as a major source of inspiration—reminders of death, certainly, but also of life’s strange continuities, flesh transubstantiated into flight. Her “Birds” series is monumental: massive swarms conducted through the sky like magnetic filings, obeying an inscrutable, suprahuman logic—seemingly algorithmic, ultimately impossible to decode. The photographs hum with remembered motion, scores of stark, glyph-like wings thronged around trees, a cruciform telephone pole.

Following the death of her daughter, Iturbide worked as an assistant to her professor, the legendary modernist photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo. From 1970 to 1971, she traveled with him across Mexico, observing his process. While they did not collaborate or discuss each other’s work, he encouraged Iturbide’s interest in documenting Native Mexicans and offered advice that transformed her outlook: “Don’t rush yourself for anything,” she recalls him saying, in a captivating fifteen-minute documentary produced for the exhibition. “There’s always time.” Dedicating herself to the virtue of patience would prove invaluable in a long career marked by intimate involvement with her subjects.

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The dark ballast of Iturbide’s photography is a deep knowledge of predation: how humans prey on animals; how multinational corporations subsume developing economies; how modern industry exploits a largely indigenous underclass; how artists wrangle life from their subjects in the name of creation. In one haunting early photograph, a young Cuna woman walks through an open field in Panama, Pepsi-Cola’s logo embroidered on her shirt. The pernicious creep of capitalism, yes, but also its corollary: a vivid reminder that indigenous people, often relegated to an imagined antiquity, are full participants in contemporary life.

Continue reading at The New York Review of Books.

Graciela Iturbide's Mexico

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MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS, BOSTON 
465 Huntington Avenue
January 19 - May 12

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In these times, when walls literally and symbolically epitomize a perverse, exclusionary outlook on the foreign, the work of Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide strikes with the relentless perspective of an insider. Frustrating the clichés of folklore and the picturesque, Iturbide’s sumptuous black-and-white images reach for the untold stories and overlooked narratives of her home country—its intricate religious and indigenous cultures, conflicting histories, and ever-transitional present. Covering five decades, her first major exhibition on the East Coast unites more than 125 photographs, primarily drawn from Iturbide’s own collection, and features thirty-seven new acquisitions, including pieces from “Juchitán,” 1979–88, a series on Mexico’s Zapotec women; six bewitching images of birds; and documentation of Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul. Accompanied by a beautifully illustrated catalogue, this timely tribute to one of Mexico’s greatest living artists reveals that the other is always us.

Curated by Kristen Gresh

Sabrina Mandanici

continue reading at artforum.com

Jo Ann Callis: The Uncanny Everyday

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by Willemijn van der Zwaan 
GUP Magazine, Issue 59


Jo Ann Callis (b. 1940, United States) started her experimental photography practice long ago, but without a context you could easily mistake her early colour work for something that could have been produced more recently - in fact, the work stems from the 1970s. These images from everyday life, contain a certain uncanny atmosphere and erotic tension, which are now considered common characteristics in the work of many young contemporary artists. 


Callis is hailed as a driving force of the Southern California art scene of the 1970s. However, before she ended up in the Golden State, she followed somewhat more traditional route for women of that era. Although her art education started while she was at high school in Ohio in the 1950s, her academic career was interrupted by marriage and children. After relocating to Los Angeles, Callis picked u where she had left off, and joined a graduate studio programme. While her initial focus was on sculpture and painting, it was her teacher, Robert Heinecken - a highly unorthodox photographer himself - who encouraged her to experiment with photograph and to incorporate it in her other media.

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The contemporary art world was in a state flux at the time, and the social environment the surrounded Callis was also coming undone. speak in the slightly cynical words of the inimitable essayist Joan Didion: the centre was not holding in 1970s California. However, while there w general social upheaval in the state - largely among counterculture youths 'dropping out' of society and getting heavily into drugs - things were al changing for the better.


Second-wave feminism was making strides i promoting equal rights for women, and although Callis was not on the front line of the movement. it did affect her artistic practice. The often frank sexuality and pleasure evident in her work is 8 reflection of the era, as are as the social and gender dynamics that Callis included in her staged images.

Her fabricated scenes seem playful at first glance, but there is often a slight uneasiness about them. Take, for example, the image of a man grabbing a woman, who is standing on a chair, by the ankles. 

While it is unclear what this scene is actually dealing with, Callis's use of what seems to be office furniture, as well as the corporate shoes and clothing worn by the subjects, suggests an underlying power dynamic. The harsh lighting adds to the effect, stressing the sinister nature of the situation. 

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The inventiveness of Callis's constructed scenes and the avant-garde themes she explored are still of great relevance for the world of today. Things are not always so severe; a tenderness often shines through in her work. In one image, we see a young girl, sitting naked on the edge of her bed, soaking a black washcloth in a glass bowl on her lap. The soft light adds a warm glow to her quiet contemplation.

Overall, regardless of the subject, Callis never aimed to push her message on to the viewer. Her early colour photographs exude a timeless freshness and leave room for interpretation. This is a key quality of her work and, whether or not they are inspired by Jo Ann Callis, it is the kind of ambivalence that so many talented young contemporary photographer manage to incorporate in their work too.

Continue reading at GUP.

The government photographer who gave a face to American poverty

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Written by Meredith Mendelsohn, CNN

In the 1930s, hundreds of thousands of poverty-stricken Dust Bowl refugees poured into California from the parched Midwest in search of food, jobs and dignity. Meanwhile, much of the country, mired in its own Depression-fueled misery, was oblivious to the ecological and social catastrophe at hand. Armed with a camera and a good dose of outrage and compassion, Dorothea Lange set out to change that.

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It's a recurring theme throughout modern history, the downtrodden and their advocates. For Lange, photographing the subjugated was her way of aiding them. She pioneered a use of the camera as a powerful catalyst for social change, and in an era erupting with humanitarian conflict, her legacy resonates.

Lange's Depression-era photos are so tightly woven into the fabric of American culture that, for many of us, our memories of that period are inseparable from the scenes she captured with her camera, from her iconic portrait of maternal demoralization and perseverance, "Migrant Mother" (1936), to her over-farmed fields, ramshackle lean-to tents and dusty jalopies.

Her mission was not just personal: Lange had been hired by the photographic unit of the Farm Security Administration -- a progressive New Deal agency founded to alleviate poverty -- to document the growing migrant crisis. But her images went far beyond bureaucratic reportage. A skilled portraitist, Lange famously possessed an ability to return a sense of dignity to a group that had been routinely dehumanized. She had also come of age during the modernist transformation of photography into an art form, and turned her lens on America's social ills with an aesthetically gripping style that captured the country's imagination.

"She and the FSA were clearly dedicated to improving the lives of migrants and drought refugees by creating public sympathy through the use of powerful imagery. And of all the FSA photographers, I think Lange was the most successful at making images that were factual, but which also packed an emotional wallop," Drew Johnson, the curator of photography and visual culture at the Oakland Museum of California, said in an email. Johnson curated "Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing," a major traveling exhibition now on view at the Barbican in London (organized by Alona Pardo and Jilke Golbach).

Read the entire article at CNN.

The Sunlit Studio a Son Built for His Photographer-Mother

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By Luisita Lopez Torregrosa | New York Times Style Magazine

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ON A COLONIAL back street in historic Coyoacán, in central Mexico City, a three-story brick tower rises above the low-roofed adobe homes in a labyrinthine neighborhood. The fall afternoon’s fading light tinges the building’s facade — walls of porous bricks laid at right angles to let in air and light while shielding the interior from view — a burnt sienna. This is Studio Iturbide, the latest project by the Mexico City-based firm Taller / Mauricio Rocha + Gabriela Carrillo, who built it for Rocha’s mother, the photographer Graciela Iturbide, whose portraiture, most famously of weathered women in Oaxacan villages, is in the permanent collections of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Brooklyn Museum.

The 75-year-old Iturbide is waiting at the doorway, diminutive, her black hair short and wavy, her complexion milky. “Mauricio will be here soon,” she says, as we enter her monolithic workspace, which is constructed of little more than red brick and wood-framed panes of glass. The architects created a hundred models before agreeing on the current design: three nine-foot-high, 300-square-foot rooms stacked atop one another, along with two interior bricked-in patios on the first floor furnished with clay pots of cacti and other regional plants, which offer the only visual disruption of the house’s earthen hues and exacting lines. Inside, the brick walls are adorned with little but the shadows of the day’s moving light.

Taking the broad wooden stairs, which are joined by invisible steel supports and appear suspended in midair, Iturbide walks us from the formal first-floor living room, with its Isamu Noguchi paper lantern and low, modernist sofa, past the casual second-floor family room and up to the top floor of the building. “This is my studio, where I work,” she says, her arms outstretched to take in the airy 16-by-19-foot space, lit by the sun coming in through two wall-size windows. Here, on a nine-foot-long oak table, Iturbide edits her photographs. Forty years of archives are stored in dozens of flat, black boxes on custom hardwood bookshelves that rise from either side of the table. “The interior space is very important for me and my work,” she says. “I need to be alone often.”

This is not the first time Iturbide’s son has made her a building: Across the street is her main house, a cream-colored adobe structure that Rocha built in 1991, when he was 25 and had just finished architecture school. In 2014, seeking more space (and freedom from her belongings), Iturbide purchased an empty lot and asked him to build on it. Her only condition was that it be made of brick: “What I wanted was to be tranquil in my studio,” she says. “I gave him total freedom.” The result, which took two years to complete, combines four kinds of brick — handmade in different dimensions in Puebla, a city known for its ceramics — with tzalam, a heavily grained hardwood brought from Mexico’s tropical south. Iturbide calls the building her “small factory of bricks.”

Continue reading at nytimes.com

UNESCO Recognizes the Archive of Manuel Álvarez Bravo

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The artist's legacy continues to impact the world. 

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The file of negatives and documents of Manuel Álvarez Bravo (1902-2002) was inscribed in the International Memory of the World Register of UNESCO.

The International Consultative Committee (ICC) of UNESCO's Memory of the World program recommended at its meeting held in Paris 78 new inscriptions in the UNESCO International Memory of the World register.

The file of Manuel Álvarez Bravo (considered the "greatest representative of twentieth-century Latin American photography") is manages by the Association that bears the same name as the photographer 

For the entire article, please visit El Universal.

PHOTOGRAPHIC: The Life of Graciela Iturbide

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ROSEGALLERY
Friday, 8 September, on view until 21 October, 2017

ROSEGALLERY presents Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide, the forthcoming graphic novel about Graciela Iturbide, published by The Getty Publications in Fall of 2017. Pages from the graphic novel will be exhibited as a narrative along the gallery walls, interlaced with pages from the graphic novel, photographic prints by Graciela Iturbide and original illustrations by Zeke Peña.
The exhibition will be open to the public during our normal business hours of 10 am to 6 pm on Friday, 8 September.

Pages from Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide © 2018 J. Paul Getty Trust,  www.getty.edu/publications . Text © Isabel Quintero, illustrations © Zeke Pefia, photographs © Graciela Iturbide.


Pages from Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide © 2018 J. Paul Getty Trust, www.getty.edu/publications. Text © Isabel Quintero, illustrations © Zeke Pefia, photographs © Graciela Iturbide.