📸 This August 19, like every year, we celebrate World Photography Day. We have highlighted this art medium in the past with our Bold Latina Spotlight series. But we would like to take the opportunity to recognize more amazing women photographers from Mexico.
Photography is an amazing artform that not only enables us to capture a moment in time and treasure it forever, but also is the perfect way for artists to unleash their creativity and to share a powerful message. Today, we pay homage to three female photographers that expressed themselves, their Mexican heritage, and crucial sociopolitical issues through their camera lenses.
1. Lola Álvarez Bravo
Born in the town of Jalisco in 1903, Lola Álvarez Bravo is considered the first Mexican female photographer. Through her evocative black and white pictures, this Latina has captured the soul of her nation. Her work has won her the artists’ podium alongside none other than Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, making her one of the key figures of the post-revolution Mexican renaissance.
Like many women artists, she was doomed to live under the shadow of her husband Manuel Álvarez Bravo, one of other renowned Mexican photographers at the time. Both of them rubbed elbows with the cultural elite of the time, which gave Lola the chance to photograph some familiar faces of the art world. For instance, inspired by Frida Kahlo’s painting “The Two Fridas”, she shot an incredible portrait using a mirror effect.
It was Manuel who introduced Lola Álvarez Bravo to the world of photography, as she assisted him with film processing in the depths of his darkroom. Thanks to that experience, she learned the tricks of the trade and began experimenting with pictures of her own. Because of a conflict of egos, the artistic power couple ended after almost ten years of marriage. However, Lola decided to keep her husband’s last name.
Now fending for herself and her seven-year-old, the artist’s independence and career soared like never before. She was especially drawn to her country’s streets and the people that walked along them.
“If my photos have any value, it's because they show a Mexico that no longer exists,” she said in her own words.
Her nostalgic gaze and attention for detail fueled her successful 50-year span career.
Lola Álvarez Bravo passed away in 1993 at the age of ninety, but her legacy never ceased to inspire other artists and aficionados.
2. Graciela Iturbide
Moving on with our list of Latin American photographers, Graciela Iturbide is one of the most famous female artists of the 20th century. Born in 1942 in Mexico City, she grew up in a wealthy Catholic household and was the eldest of 13 siblings. At the age of 20, staying true to her conservative upbringing, she married Pedro Meyer, a Mexican photographer, and quickly became a mom of three children.
It wasn’t until a couple years later that Iturbide’s interest for photography blossomed. She first ventured into filmmaking studies at university, but then found her true love for pictures. Curiosity led her path to cross with Lola Álvarez Bravo’s thanks to a similar experience. Graciela worked as a studio assistant to none other than Lola's husband, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, during the years 1970 and 1971.
Deeply influenced by that experience, this Latina artist shot black and white depictions of Mexico’s nooks and crannies. Her pictures focused on photo essays scream Mexico and showcase a respect for the culture they belong to, even when they are shot across the border. For instance, her 1986 photo series “Cholos” sheds light on East Los Angeles Chicano community. These women represent Mexico with their heavy hairspray and combed-back hairstyles, dark lips and tough attitudes.
Iturbide also paid homage to her homeland by celebrating its revered artise: Frida Kahlo. Her photo exhibition “El baño de Frida” or “Frida’s Bathroom”, which she brought to life in 2006, showcases an intimate room of Frida’s blue house. Each picture is a strange still life of the artist’s journey through this plane. The photos show crutches, surrealist items, and Communist symbols. Iturbide has captured it all with distinctive tenderness. She’s an artist that will definitely endure the test of time.
3. Laura Aguilar
Laura Aguilar is an LGBTQIA+ activist who has shocked the world with her sincere self-portraits and utter originality. Her work as a Mexican-American photographer deals with profound topics like sexuality, identity, body image, and her own Chicano culture. She was born in 1959 in San Gabriel, California. Her father was a first-generation Mexican-American and her mother was brought up in a Mexican-Irish housewold. This cultural background intensely influenced Aguilar’s work, which celebrates diversity on all fronts.
This Chicanx queer artist was mostly self-taught, and discovered the magic darkrooms held thanks to her brother and some classes at a community college. Her debut commenced during the 1970, even though she wouldn't be under the spotlight for many more years. Some of her best work revolves around her series of “Latina Lesbians”, an ensemble of pictures she took from 1986 to 1990. What’s so original about this project is that Aguilar combined photography with written testimonies from the people she depicted.
Unafraid and unapologetic, she was one of the first people to explore the concept of intersectionality. Her nude portraits of brown, large-bodied, queer or working-class people were intended to make viewers uncomfortable. The idea was to showcase the complexities of marginalized communities such as obese, queer and the disabled and their struggles against discrimination, communities she was a part of herself.
Aguilar’s sensitivity and activism has left a strong, yet sometimes underestimated, imprint on the queer movement. Long before and after her death in 2018, Laura’s work has taught us to respect one another and to find beauty where others have told us there isn’t any.
There are many famous latino photographers worthy of mentioning, with plenty of women holding the fort for future artists. These three women and queer photographers have brought their medium to the limit, defying boundaries within both the art and the society we live in.
These artist’s pictures have been printed all across the world. The beauty about the art of photography is that people can make infinite copies of one single picture and its message holds an endless power, but it can only be unleashed through the public’s eyes and minds.