Opening 15 September 2010, Diemar/Noble Photography will present a unique range of photographs by Manuel Alvarez Bravo (1902-2002), renowned photographic pioneer of Mexico and celebrated master of the medium. This exhibition coincides with bicentennial celebrations of Mexico's independence and will open exactly 200 years after the call to take up arms against the Spanish colonial government. In addition, 2010 marks the 100 years since the start of the Mexican revolution, which is celebrated on 20 November.
The exhibition features images that span the twentieth century, from the 1920s through to the 1990s. These photographs exemplify Bravo's photographic and artistic vision, rooted in a modern aesthetic, while remaining acutely aware of cultural heritage in post-revolutionary Mexico. Often aligned with influential photographers Edward Weston and Tina Modotti, who were finding rich subject matter in the people, landscape, and politics of the country, Bravo's images also correspond with the rising status of folk culture in the arts during an era often referred to as the Mexican Renaissance. As the murals of Diego Rivera and Jose Orozco, with their attention to indigenous and traditional heritage, began to dominate the walls of Mexico's public buildings, Bravo's photographs began to do the same in the form of stunning black and white prints.
The title of the exhibition, Quetzalcoatl, shares its name with Bravo's 1968 image, but also the name of the Meso-American serpent deity. Elements of religion, the supernatural and surrealism, all invoked by Bravo's photographs, are also embodied by the idea of Quetzalcoatl and represent his successful marriage of cultural heritage and modernist mode.
Bravo's keen visual instincts developed early on ' with a grandfather and father who practiced photography, he was the third generation to consider the artistic and documentary offerings of the camera. Though he began his photographic exploration with an interest in pictorialism, his imagery was quickly informed by his more radical contemporaries. Modotti was perhaps the biggest influence on Bravo's practice, as she gave him one of his first cameras, and the two worked together often. She also taught him the platinum printing process ' a technique he would continue to use throughout his lengthy career. Ten platinum prints, from varying decades between the early 1920s and 1980 are included in this exhibition.
While some of his photographs were equally politically-charged (most famously Striking Worker, Murdered, 1934), Bravo's eye was essentially limitless in its search for subject matter, embracing nude portraiture, intricate formal studies, street documentary and landscape photography, and even taking Modotti's former position at Mexican Folkways magazine when she was deported in 1930. No one angle preferred over another, all of Bravo's images were imbued with varying degrees of tradition, religion, and surrealism.
Rivera, a friend, collaborator, and subject whose portrait appears in this exhibition, often noted the poetic nature of Bravo's images, along with their 'desperate and refined irony.' The popularity of his photographs, however, was not reserved for his Mexican contemporaries. Andre Breton was especially taken with his images, saw their potential for being considered in the surrealist vein, and was a catalyst in bringing much of his work to Paris in the 1940s. Breton said about Bravo that, 'He has shown us everything that is poetic in Mexico. Where Manuel Álvarez Bravo has stopped to photograph a light, a sign, a silenceâ¦it is not only where Mexico's heart beats, but also where the artist has been able to feel, with a unique vision, the totally objective value of his emotion.'
As his career grew more prolific, Bravo's images were included in numerous exhibitions around the world, including, in 1955, Edward Steichen's 'Family of Man' at MoMA. He photographed through the 1990s until just before his death in 2002, continuing to invigorate culturally-bound black and white images with the insistence of modernity that gave his work its original, pointed relevance.
Quetzalcoatl: Photographs by Manuel Alvarez Bravo is a collaboration with the Toscafund & the Manuel Alvarez Bravo Association and is supported by The Embassy of Mexico in the United Kingdom