Manuel Alvarez Bravo (Mexico City, 1902-2002) is one of the parents of Mexican artistic photography. The spontaneous, simple and poetic language of his images make him one of the top names in black and white photography, with photographs that are in the same league as masters such as Paul Strand, Walker Evans and Henri Cartier-Bresson.
In 1987, the former Centro de Arte Reina Sofía exhibited some of his work at the Diego Rivera y su México a través del ojo de la cámara exhibition together with those of peers such as Hugo Brehme, Edward Weston and Tina Modotti. The latter introduced Alvarez Bravo to the circle of the Mexican muralists, with whom the photographer would share political and artistic concerns. His extreme sensitivity, trained to find signs in the daily scenes of his country, finds substance in accidents, converting his images into emblematic ways of seeing things.
Alvarez Bravo’s current retrospective exhibition at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía includes the first steps taken in the photographic discipline into which the self-taught artist enters in the mid-twenties up until the first part of the Nineties. The themes present in the exhibition range from landscapes, portraits, compositions, traditional scenes and nudes. There are a total of one hundred and seventy six copies in silver gelatine among which are some of his most well-known photographs. In this way works such as La buena fama durmiendo (1938-39), an image commissioned by André Breton stand out. Because of the procedure used in the composition of this photograph Alvarez Bravo’s photography gained a reputation of having a surreal component, something which the artist has repeatedly denied.
Obrero en huelga asesinado (1934) is perhaps the most famous photograph by the Mexican artist. It is certainly an exception in his collection of work that leans more towards peacefulness and eroticism than conflict and violence. According to the photographer, the murder was committed so close to him that he hurried to load the camera and take the shot. The blood flowing onto the ground and the labourer’s eyes clearly open are what stand out about the photograph that has been around the world. Writer Teresa del Conde says in the text of the catalogue which accompanies the exhibition that "there is a before and an after to having seen the photograph."
The search for details and textures and the play with light are often present in Álvarez Bravo’s production which focuses on whatever is close by such as in Sábanas (1933) and addresses the wide landscape of Bicicletas en domingo (1966). The Mexican artist alternates the eschatology present in the Mexican tradition in Enterramiento de Metepec (1932) with humorous winks to everyday coincidences Maniquís riendo (1930) or Ángeles en camión (1930). The window and the written word as metaphorical photographic resources are also part of his iconography. Both are present in one of his most recognisable photographs, Parábola optica (1931).
Nudes are also of great importance in Alvarez Bravo’s work. Female exuberance appears immortalised in his various "Venus" loaded with importance. Often headless portraits are present in this exhibition along with others photographed by the artist such as, José Clemente Orozco (c.1930), Diego Rivera (1930), Frida Kahlo (1940), Octavio Paz (1977), Rufino Tamayo (1989), León Trotsky (1930-1940), René D’Harnoncourt (1930-1940), Vicente Rojo (1976) or Juan Soriano (1978) among many others.
This exhibition is a summary of seventy years of this artist’s activity who contributed to the consolidation of photography as an artistic expression in Mexico and whose work has become a chapter in the history of contemporary photography.