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America: An Overview, Photography in
of photography in Latin America is rich and diverse. The work
of Latin American photographers often reflects the key historical,
social, political, and aesthetic forces at work in the region.
A variety of people and groups brought the photographic medium
to Latin America in the 19th century: foreign invaders, such as
the French forces seeking to place Maximillian on the throne in
Mexico; amateur artists looking for inspiration, such as Adela
Breton; settlers searching for a way to earn a living, such as
the German Guillermo Kahlo, the father of the renowned artist
Frida Kahlo; and the numerous foreign companies seeking profits
and needing to illustrate their operations to investors.
19th century, Latin American photography more closely followed
artistic and journalistic trends from outside the region. European
institutions, audiences, and aesthetics played significant roles
in this early Latin American photography. However, by the early
20th century, Latin American photography became more complex and
syncretic. It often portrayed the many problems and contradictions
of societies that combined indigenous, colonial, and modern industrial
In the early
20th century, documentary photography grew in importance in Latin
America. Already by the late 19th century, Latin Americans had
become increasingly interested in visual records of contemporary
events, as was seen, for example, in the many combat photographers
who recorded the region's conflicts. Documentary photography became
more widespread as travel became easier with construction of roads
and rail lines. Also, the appearance of illustrated periodicals
such as Caras y Caretas in Argentina and El Cojo Ilustrado
in Venezuela created more demand for photographs.
of documentary photography can perhaps best be seen in Mexico
and Brazil during the late 19th century. In Mexico, documentary
photography prospered under the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz.
This photographic style suited the needs of the dictatorship,
showing off public works, parades, and orderly citizens, all in
line with the positivism of the era. In Brazil, Marc Ferrez, the
best-known 19th-century Latin American photographer, recorded
economic development and modernization starting in the 1860s and
continuing into the early 20th century.
It was during
the period of the Mexican Revolution that began in 1910 when documentary
photography matured in Mexico. The best example of an early Mexican
photojournalist is Agustín Victor Casasola, who left an
archive of more than 600,000 plates. He photographed some of the
key revolutionary leaders such as Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa.
Casasola, who sometimes traveled with troops, showed the human
side of the conflict and focused on the life of ordinary soldiers.
He often photographed women, both soldiers and those accompanying
the men. Casasola's photographs also demonstrated the horrors
of war, as seen in his images of executions. His work shows how
photography can be used to aid in the construction of political
history and national identity.
20th-century also saw the flourishing of portraiture in Latin
America, a trend that began in the late-19th century and was part
of a world-wide phenomenon. These early portraits often depicted
members of a new urban society that was growing in size, power,
and wealth. This trend can be seen in the work of photographers
such as Melitón Rodríguez and Benjamín de
la Calle in Colombia, Alejandro Witcomb in Argentina, Romualdo
García in Mexico, and Eugene Courret in Peru.
be expected in a region in which Catholicism predominates, many
early Latin American photographers used their medium to examine
the place of the Catholic Church. Among the most notable early
examples is the work of Juan José de Jesús Yas,
who was born in Japan, moved to Guatemala in 1877, and converted
to Catholicism. Starting in the 1880s and continuing until the
second decade of the 20th century, he frequently photographed
the clergy, churches, and ritual objects. Missionaries in the
remote parts of Latin America also used photography to document
and legitimate a European presence among indigenous populations.
Missionaries used their cameras to record the lives, rituals,
and cultures of native inhabitants and the transformations that
took place with the arrival of so-called "civilization."
In the post-World
War I period, there were limited options for photographers in
Latin America. Relatively few photographers were able to both
earn a living and maintain any sense of artistic vision. There
was no counterpart to the photographic experimentation that took
place in Europe and the United States, as seen in the work of
photographers such as Alfred Stieglitz. Furthermore, the nihilism
and pessimism of the European avant-garde was not present in Latin
America, as the region did not experience the same death and destruction.
Rather, themes such as pan-Americanism and Indigenismo
permeated Latin American photography.
the limited opportunities for photographers in general in the
post-WWI period, the 1920s did see the emergence of the so-called
Cuzco School. Centered in Cuzco, the photographers associated
with this school-Native Americans from the highlands of Peru-produced
images that were modern and ethnographic. These men used old equipment
and earned a living as traditional village studio photographers,
working under difficult economic situations. Furthermore, each
of them came from the same social and ethnic groups as many of
their subjects. None of them became rich nor famous in their lifetime.
It was only later in the 20th century that these men were recognized
as important photographers.
well-known of the Cuzco School photographers is Martín
Chambi. Chambi, the son of peasants from the village of Coaza,
began working during the 1920s. He began his career as an apprentice
for a photographer working for a British mining company. He later
moved to Cuzco, where he made a modest living as a studio photographer.
Chambi also traveled widely and produced thousands of documentary
photographs. His body of work was influenced by the indigenismo
ideology prevalent at the time in Peru. He was also associated
with the nationalist APRA political party. Chambi's work brings
his subjects to life, even in ordinary scenes and without defying
the conventions of conservative Peruvian society. He meticulously
posed his photographs, so much so that they satisfied his upper-class
clients who were unaware that he was satirizing their status and
class power. Unfortunately, Chambi died virtually unknown in 1973.
to Chambi, the other Latin American master who emerged from the
first half of the 20th century was the Mexican Manuel Alvarez
Bravo. Alvarez Bravo began taking photographs in the mid-1920s.
Originally more interested in painting, music, and literature,
in 1922, Alvarez Bravo met the photographer Hugo Brehme and decided
that he too would become a photographer. Then in 1927, Alvarez
Bravo met Tina Modotti, who led him to find a personal tone for
his images. Edward Weston came to admire Alvarez Bravo's work,
which opened the doors to the international photographic community.
Alvarez soon became internationally famous, exhibiting in Paris
in the 1930s along with Henri Cartier-Bresson. His work possesses
a great poetic quality. Furthermore his images offer a wide range
of interpretations, as there is often more than meets the eye
in what seem like ordinary photographs. Like the Mexican muralists
of the time, Alvarez Bravo incorporated Mexico's indigenous past
into his images.
relatively few women involved in photography in the early 20th
century. The first to make a significant contribution was the
Italian-born Tina Modotti, who first went to Mexico in 1923, where
she lived off and on until she died there in 1942. Modotti was
a student of Edward Weston. She is known for her photographs of
Mexican street and village life, exploring everyday problems of
the people. For example, she produced images of workers demonstrations.
Modotti emphasized what she called "photographic quality,"
which meant taking "sincere photographs" without manipulation.
Modotti had an important influence on other Mexican photographers
such as Manuel Alvarez Bravo and Lola Alvarez Bravo.
Bravo was another important female photographer in Mexico in the
first half of the century. Many of her images reflect the surrealist
movement. She also produced portraits, especially of painters
and writers involved in the vibrant art scene of Mexico City in
the 1930s and 1940s. Among her subjects was the artist Frida Kahlo.
Alvarez Bravo was able to capture Frida's free spirit in a way
that no male photographer had been able to do.
A third female
photographer of note in Mexico was the Hungarian-born Kati Horna,
who came to Mexico in 1939 seeking political asylum. Horna settled
in Mexico City for the rest of her life. Like Alvarez Bravo, she
was part of the surrealist movement. Horna also earned a living
as a newspaper photographer.
Aires, Argentina, a number of female photographers also made significant
contributions. In particular, the German-born Annemarie Heinrich
and Greta Stern rose to prominence. Both women arrived in Buenos
Aires in the 1930s and both became known for their artistic portraits,
a distinctive characteristic of the Buenos Aires photography scene.
Their clients were often well-known artists from theater, dance,
and cinema. No artist who visited the Colon Theater in the Argentine
capital failed to visit their studios. These glamorous photographs
of the famous performing artists developed in Buenos Aires to
a greater extent than anywhere else in the region.
of Latin American photography changed with the Cuban Revolution
of the 1950s. From the early days of the revolution, Cuban photographers
recorded the events of the guerrilla war against the dictator
Fulegncio Batista. Not only did photographers document events,
they also portrayed the leaders of the revolution. Iconography
played an important role in Latin American photography of the
period. Fidel Castro's image became known worldwide and could
be seen in publications such as Life. Che Guevara became
a popular icon in large part due to Alberto Korda's photograph
of the revolutionary leader with a black beret with a revolutionary
star on it.
In many ways,
the photographs of the Cuban Revolution followed the tradition
of epic photography begun during the Mexican Revolution with the
works of photographers such as Casasola. In the post-Cuban Revolution
period, Latin American photography was given a sort of revolutionary
imperative. That this was the case can be seen in Fidel Castro's
unannounced visit in 1984 to the Third Colloquium of Latin American
Photography being held in Havana. The Cuban leader reminisced
about the role of photography and images during the revolution.
Furthermore, with the creation of the Cuban news agency Prensa
Latina, a Third World alternative to international news organizations,
a new space was opened for Latin American photojournalists.
One of the
results of the Cuban Revolution was that it forced photographers-as
well as those in almost any other occupation-to choose sides.
Either one was committed to the ideals of social revolution or
one was labeled as a frivolous and decadent artist who simply
produced art for art's sake.
Revolution was not the last time that photography was used for
political purposes. Rebels in El Salvador during the 1980s continued
the tradition. However, the Salvadorans also added a new twist
to traditional documentary photography. They made the genre more
pragmatic and media-savvy. The 1980s was a decade of media events,
and in places like El Salvador, where conflict was rampant, a
good photograph could be just as important as a military victory.
Latin American photographers staged the First Colloquium of Latin
American Photography in Mexico City. Subsequent meetings would
be held in Mexico City in 1981 and Havana in 1984. The events
brought a new prominence to Latin American photography. In the
wake of the Cuban Revolution and influenced by more recent events
such as the Sandanista Revolution in Nicaragua, leftist political
rhetoric dominated the meetings. The Colloquium was accompanied
by an exhibition called Hecho en Latinoamerica (Made in
Latin America). The exhibition clearly had a point of view, as
photography was seen as an anti-imperialist tool. Some used the
term "liberation photography," in reference to Liberation
Theology, which was so prevalent at the time. One critic described
the exhibit as "documentary and humanistic with an occasional
tinge of exoticism and leftist politics." While some Latin
American photographers did produce alternative styles of images,
they were largely unrepresented at the Colloquium.
was also important in that it helped to internationalize Latin
American photography. It led to a series of international exhibitions
that helped to bring Latin American photography to a global audience
for the first time. Also important is that fact that for the first
time, some of these exhibitions were based on extensive curatorial
surveys. Generally, Latin American curators had lacked the funds
to conduct such a survey.
Colloquium had emphasized the political and social nature of Latin
American photography, by the end of the 20th century, the medium
had taken many forms. While traditional themes of social justice
and magical realism continued, many other forms of experimental
photography prospered. Among them was the avant-garde work of
Luis González Palma and Mario Cravo Neto. Others such as
Pedro Meyer, Graciela Iturbide, and Flor Garduño produced
documentary fine art. Overall, by the end of the century, the
Latin American photography scene was as diverse and vibrant as
anywhere in the world.
Documentary photography; Photography in Latin America: Central
America; Photography in Latin America: Mexico; Photography in
Latin America: South America; Portraiture; Manuel Alvarez Bravo;
Martín Chambi; Tina Modotti; Edward Weston
Erika, A Song to Reality: Latin American Photography, 1860-1993,
Barcelona and New York: Lunwerg, 1998
Amanda, "'Mediated Worlds': Latin American Photography,"
Bulletin of Latin American Research 20:4 (2001): 520-527
M., Images of History: 19th and Early Twentieth Century Latin
American Photographs as Documents, Durham and London: Duke
University Press, 1989
M., ed., Windows on Latin America: Understanding Society through
Photographs, Coral Gables, FL: North-South Center, University
of Miami, 1987
Wendy and Lois Parkinson Zamora, eds., Image and Memory: Photography
from Latin America, 1866-1994, Austin, TX: The University
of Texas Press, 1998
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