Review: Graciela Iturbide’s legendary eye and arresting photos of Mexico

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4 MAY 2019 | 8:00 AM


Legendary Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide has a retrospective at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston this spring, but you don’t need to trek across the country to sample her arresting imagery. Works spanning her 50-year career can be found at Rosegallery in Santa Monica, and though the show lacks the thematic and biographical context of a museum exhibition, it is a powerful reminder of Iturbide’s singular vision, at once macabre and quotidian.

Born in 1942 in Mexico City, Iturbide studied film before becoming an assistant to modernist photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo. She began her own practice as a street photographer, and in the late 1970s, she completed two projects documenting indigenous populations: the Seri Indians of the Sonora Desert and the Zapotec women of Juchitán, Oaxaca.

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The exhibition includes several examples of this work, along with a few etchings by artist Francisco Toledo, who invited Iturbide to Juchitán. The inclusion of Toledo half-heartedly gestures toward an artistic milieu, but his works seem to have been selected primarily for their visual similarities to Iturbide’s photographs, making the comparison somewhat superficial. The exhibition doesn’t need them.

The power and grace of Iturbide’s work shines through, even if you don’t know anything about her biography. “Mexico DF” from 1972 is an answer to late 19th century depictions of Parisian café society. A well-dressed woman smokes at a café table, an empty shot glass in front of her. Her prominent cheekbones and eyes rimmed in black echo those of the enormous skull painted on the wall behind her. The image is theatrical and allegorical while remaining thoroughly grounded in the everyday.

Similarly striking is “Aky, Mexico City” from 1974. It depicts a stylish dandy in ascot, dark sunglasses and a slim, four-button suit, posing in front of a roll-down security door. “Aky” isn’t his name; it’s the letters written on the door behind him. But it also sounds like the Spanish word “aqui,” meaning “here.”


While many of Iturbide’s works are portraits, they all have a remarkable sense of place. “Señor de las imágenes” from 1982 depicts an older man standing in a crowded plaza. Under his arm he holds two mirrors that reflect the goings-on at two different angles. Iturbide has captured an unwitting kindred spirit: a collector of fleeting images, reflecting back on us.

Impermanence, it seems, is never far from Iturbide’s mind. Skulls and dead animals recur throughout the show, perhaps nowhere more striking than in “Muerte novia,” from 1990. It depicts a pregnant bride wearing a skull mask. Life and death and ceremony, all wrapped into one magical image.

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Graciela Iturbide: Visionary Ethnographer

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The New York Review of Books

by Christopher Alessandrini | 30 MARCH 2019


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.


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 Photos of Mexico Make ‘Visible What, to Many, Is Invisible’

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Over the past 50 years, Ms. Iturbide has captured layers of Mexico’s diverse cultures and practices, as well as the struggles and contrasts across the nation.

The New York Times

Text by Evelyn Nieves | Photographs by Graciela Iturbide

8 January 2019

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Graciela Iturbide may be one of the most renowned photographers working today. Five decades into her journey with a camera, her work, most famously in indigenous communities in her native Mexico, has achieved that rare trifecta — admired by critics, revered by fellow photographers and adored by the public. She continues to travel, photograph and exhibit all over the world.


But it is becoming impossible to discuss her work without mentioning the Zapotec woman wearing live iguanas on her head.

Ms. Iturbide made the photo after happening upon Zobeida Díaz at a farmer’s market while living with the Juchitán of southeastern Oaxaca in 1979. It took several tries — the iguanas kept moving around, falling off, reducing her subject to laughter — but on her contact sheet, Ms. Iturbide found her “Nuestra Señora de las Iguanas (Our Lady of the Iguanas),” an image so arresting that 40 years later, its popularity is still growing.

In Mexico, “Nuestra Señora” is on murals, posters, postcards and road signs to Juchitán, and rendered into a life-size bronze sculpture in the Juchitán town square. It covers a brick building wall in East Los Angeles. It has gone viral. Fans have taken the rich black-and-white image and recreated it into graphic art, self-portraits, YouTube videos.

No wonder Ms. Iturbide says the image “is no longer mine.”

Nor is that iconic image her only claim to fame. In a long and varied career, Ms. Iturbide, 76, has done deep dives into her beloved country. She has documented the Seri Indians of Sonora, goat-slaughter festivals among the Mixtec of Oaxaca, funeral rites, cultural practices, complex landscapes, birds, herself.

Selections from these projects, “Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico,” drawn primarily from her own collection, will be on view at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, from Jan. 19 to May 12. Some of her most recent work, on Frida Kahlo’s bathroom (opened 50 years after Diego Rivera locked it upon her death), goes on display on Feb. 27 through June 16) as part of the museum’s exhibit “Frida Kahlo and Arte Popular.”

“Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico” unpacks Ms. Iturbide’s artistic journey as she captures layers of Mexico’s exquisitely diverse cultures and practices, struggles and contrasts.


Of course, it includes “Our Lady of the Iguanas,” on loan from the permanent collection of the Brooklyn Museum. It also includes “Angel Woman (Mujer Angel),” arguably Ms. Iturbide’s second-most famous image, an ethereal image taken from behind of a Seri woman with hair down her back and traditional dress who seems to float through the desert carrying the cultural prop of urban life at the time: a boombox.

In image after image, there is more going on than meets the eye.

Kristen Gresh, the Estrellita and Yousuf Karsh curator of photographs at the Museum of Fine Arts, who worked closely with Ms. Iturbide in organizing the exhibit, said what made her unique among the pantheon of photographers working today was her empathetic approach.

“For her, the camera is an instrument of sharing, making visible what, to many, is invisible,” Ms. Gresh said. Ms. Iturbide’s photos, she added, provide “a poetic vision of contemporary culture informed by a sense of life’s surprises and mysteries.”

“Jardín Botánico, Oaxaca, México (Botanical Garden, Oaxaca, Mexico),” 1998-99.CreditGraciela Iturbide/Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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Graciela Iturbide's Mexico

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465 Huntington Avenue
January 19 - May 12


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

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Photo L.A. announces the honoree and beneficiary for 2019: JO ANN CALLIS

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Announcing Photo L.A. Honoree & Beneficiary


Join PHOTO LA January 31, 2019 6-9PM at Barker Hanger, Santa Monica for the Opening Night of Photo L.A. as they proudly honor artist Jo Ann Callis for her contributions to the history and aesthetics of the photographic arts.

A central figure in the Southern California photography scene since the 1970s, Jo Ann Callis is known for her provocatively staged scenarios with a poetic dimension. In her work, the inner world of the artist finds material expression through creative juxtapositions, bold colors and playful constructions.

Photo L.A. 2019 Opening Night will be held to benefit Venice Arts.

Venice Arts ignites, expands, and transforms the lives of Los Angeles’ low-income youth through photography and film education.

Be the first to enjoy the curated roster of 60 plus local and international galleries, dealers, collectives, leading not-for-profits, art schools, and global booksellers at the 27th edition of Photo L.A. presented at the historic Barker Hangar, Santa Monica. And take part in honoring Jo Ann Callis, benefitting Venice Arts, and mingling with the always eclectic Los Angeles photography community.

Tickets now available! Follow the links below to buy your tickets to the Photo L.A. 2019 Opening Night and join us in experiencing A Photography Fair Like No Other!



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. 


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.

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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.

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.