On Manuel Álvarez Bravo

Death is born with every new life

Death is born with every new life – Manuel Álvarez bravo

A young pensive MAB

A young pensive MAB

I told one of my dear Twitter friends, Tim Gander,  how he reminded me of Manuel Álvarez Bravo and he wrote this excellent post about him. The photo that prompted me to make this comparison was one of a young, pensive Manuel Álvarez Bravo (MAB) that was  used as the poster image for his retrospective exhibition in the Museo de Bellas Artes in Mexico City last year.

The Museo de Bellas Artes inherited of his collection, comprising not only his photographic archives but also his art collection that included prehispanic figurines, books, prints, illustrations and photos of contemporary photographers that were personal friends of MAB.

I have not much too add to what he wrote that hasn’t been already said before by more informed and knowledgeable people.

MAB's "Public thirst" photo made the cover of the BJP in 1976.

MAB’s “Public thirst” (1934)  photo made the cover of the BJP in 1976.

MAB has been in the world photo scene since the beginning of his career – the 20s of last century – but I would like to comment in something Tim picked up in his post: MAB’s obsession with death.

MAB was born in 1902 in Mexico City and while growing up he witnessed the violence and crudeness of the conflicts leading towards and during the Revolution, as well as the union struggles of the 1930s . Those were the same years that saw the birth of the “Catrina” and other skelleton characters of Posada.

Pencil sketch after the famous Posada's famous Catrina

Pencil sketch after the famous Posada’s famous Catrina

Death has been a constant companion of Mexicans throughout our history and an important part of our search for a national identity, one that will integrate European and Indigenous roots and was taking shape amidst the conflict.

Another big influences on MAB’s work was the surrealist movement which reminds me of Man Ray’s work. MAB, as Man Ray, also started as a graphic artist but decided to learn and use photography as a medium, not just to portrait reality but to talk about concepts. André Breton said of Mexico that it was the most surreal country in the world, so maybe MAB work’s look surrealist to European eyes while to us Mexicans it’s the illustration of our identity.

An insatiable curiosity

An insatiable curiosity


One Comment on “On Manuel Álvarez Bravo”

  1. Glass Eye says:

    Thank you, Lau, a really interesting post which sheds more light on what I was seeing in MAB’s work. I’m not so good at analysing photographs, but at least I did pick up on his interest in death (and now I understand a little better the Mexican cultural view of death too). Over the years I realise I have neglected that part of my job which requires me to look at the important work of others. Your introduction to Álvarez Bravo has reminded me I need to rectify this. Thank you.

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