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Manuel Alvarez Bravo

Posted in USD-Guad | ART 160V by Paul Turounet on June 24, 2007

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Manuel Alvarez Bravo (1902 – 2002) is not only one of the most important photographers from Mexico, but is also considered as one of the great master photographers of the twentieth century.

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Bravo’s career began in post-revolutionary Mexico City which had emerged as an artistic and cultural center. In 1927, after receiving First Prize at the Regional Exhibition in Oaxaca, he would meet Tina Modotti, who had learned photography as a companion of Edward Weston. Modotti was a considerable influence on Bravo and encouraged him to show his work. He began his first significant work soon after their meeting and became a major figure in the blossoming Mexican art movement of the 1930s.

Just as his contemporaries Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and José Clemente Orozco, Bravo was interested in the indiginous culture and Mexican social landscape. Recurring themes, explored primarily in black and white and later in color over the course of his eighty-year career, included a sympathetic view for the working class, mystery and surrealism, life and death as well as the female nude.

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Harris: La Buena Fama Durmiendo is in fact one of your most well known photographs and was included in an important exhibition of surrealist photography. How did it come about?

Bravo: Andre Breton asked me for a surrealist photograph for an exhibition. For this photograph it just occurred to me to tell a girl I was photographing to wrap elastic bands around her ankles and thighs. I had gotten the elastic from a friend of mine who was a doctor. I remembered I once took a photograph of ballet dancers at their rehearsal, all the girls wore those bands on their ankles. So I got the idea from there. But it had no particular meaning, it was just a last minute set up because it had to be something surrealistic, so I thought maybe this might work.

Harris: Why did you give it that title?

Bravo: Well, it’s just a name; she was lying down. You can call things anything that you want. Most of my photographs have just a capricious title. The photograph was named La Buena Fama Durmiendo on a whim.

from an interview by Mark Edward Harris with Manuel Alvarez Bravo at http://www.startphoto.com

For more of the interview, (click here).

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During the 1930’s, Bravo work as a cinematographer and teacher of photography while further developing his own personal vision in photography. He would meet Paul Strand and Henri Cartier-Bresson, later exhibiting with Bresson and Walker Evans in the United States.

In 1938, through Diego Rivera, Bravo met Andre Breton, the founder of the Surrealism movement. While Bravo was not formally a member of the Surrealists, his work reflected a strong appreciation in terms of imagery and aesthetic practice. However, soon after, he would spend less time on his own photography, concentrating his attention on cinematography and teaching at the Sindicato de Trabaladores de la Producción Cinematografica de Mexico in Mexico City.


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Harris: What inspires you to shoot?

Bravo: [Laughs] I just get the will to do it.

Harris: So you don’t visualize a shot first?

Bravo: Not in the sense of planning a photograph in advance. For example, the photograph of the worker who was assassinated, “Oberero En Huelga, Asesinado – Striking Worker, Assassinated,” he was already dead when I arrived. He was the man who had started the strike. I didn’t look for an angle. I didn’t have any preconceived ideas. I just had an impulse and photographed.

I’ll give you another example. A girl showed up at the place where I live, not here at the studio. I didn’t know in advance what I was going to do. All I had was a Hasselblad and a model who had agreed to pose nude. The photograph, “Prohibited Fruit,” came from this session. I work by impulse. No philosophy. No ideas. Not by the head, but by the eyes. Eventually inspiration comes. Instinct is the same as inspiration and eventually it comes. When I work it’s by impulse.

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Portfolios of Manuel Alvarez Bravo’s photographs can viewed at http://www.masters-of-fine-art-photography.com (click here) as well as http://www.getty.edu (click here).

All photographs © Familia Alvarez Bravo y Urbajtel

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