Often referred to as Mexico’s most celebrated fine art photographer, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, life and work spanned the entire 20th century, relentlessly captured the history of the country’s evolving social and geopolitical atmosphere. He first picked up a camera and began taking pictures before enrolling in night classes in painting in 1917, and sought instruction in the darkroom of a local German photographer Hugo Brehme.
Initially self-taught, Alvarez Bravo developed through study of foreign and local photography journals. Through the pages of those journals, he first came across the work of Edward Weston and Tina Modotti, who came to Mexico in 1923; the latter became a close colleague and supporter introducing him to the artists of Mexico’s avant – garde, including Diego Rivera, Frida Khalo and Rufino Tamayo, as well as encouraging him to send photographs to Weston.
He initially started by photographing abstract paper forms before moving on to address recognisable motifs people, things and objects for example, a sheep fallen down against a sidewalk curb—are shown in real habitats, but captured in a perspective which elevate the purpose and meaning of the photograph, beyond that of pure documentation. Encourages to pursue his art by an admiring Edward Weston, Álvarez Bravo photographed what he saw around him, his unique perspective adding a poetic quality to the everyday scene.
Álvarez Bravo’s career emerged during a creative renaissance that was a reaction to the resulting paradigm shift in the political environment. Alongside the major uprisings against then-Mexican president, Porfirio Díaz, brought forth by political revolutionaries. Álvarez Bravo’s work evolved during this period and addressed the country’s “gradual abandonment of rural life and traditional customs to the rise of a post-revolutionary culture with international influences, and the espousal of a modern culture related to the urban maelstrom.”
Although considered to be a part of the Surrealist movement, Alvarez Bravo’s images aren’t exclusively Surrealist in its denotative meaning; his lens captured the uncanny and mythic qualities of things that tangibly existed, such as an optical store plastered with eye illustrations that evoke the work of pure Surrealists.
Álvarez Bravo’s career is one which can be easily seen as a story of tireless work— full of laborious attempts and devout experimentation—leading to iconic masterpieces. As Gerardo Mosquera states in an essay inside the exhibition’s catalog: “while Henri Cartier-Bresson seized the “decisive moment,” Álvarez Bravo laid a trap for “decisive moments”—a statement which both captures not only Álvarez Bravo’s dedication to his practice, but his ability to compose and very purposefully create photographs saturated with poetic complexity.