Manuel Alvarez Bravo

Manuel Alvarez Bravo

Born Feb. 4th, 1902, Mexico City, Mexico – Died October 19th, 2002, Mexico City, Mexico

Alvarez grew up in Mexico City and was born into a creative family.  His father was a teacher whose passion was painting, writing (having produced several plays), and photography; which he learned from his father, Alvarez’s great grandfather, who made his living making portraits.  So without a doubt he was exposed to photography his whole life and it’s possible that photography had been in his family since its inception.

Alvarez lived through the Mexican Revolution and witnessed the horrors of war at a very early age; this would have an influence on his photography.  Being a self-taught photographer, he bought his first camera in the early 20’s and emerged during what is considered the Mexican renaissance.  After the Mexican revolution Mexico was struggling to create a national identity.  Mexico City it’s self-became a center for the arts.

Good Reputation Sleeping 1938

Good Reputation Sleeping 1938

His interest in photography was influenced and encouraged by no other then Tina Modotti, (look for an article on her soon) when she was in Mexico working for a magazine in the late 1920’s.  When Tina Modotti was deported for political activities she left her camera and her job at the Mexican Folkways magazine to Alvarez. He crossed paths, was encouraged, promoted and even commissioned by some of the most notable creative minds of the era including, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Jose Clemente Orozco, Andre Breton, Paul Strand, Pablo Picasso, and Cartier Bresson.  When someone compared his work to Edward Weston’s, Cartier Bresson’s response was “Don’t compare them, Manuel is the real artist.”

While Alvarez was influenced by a wide verity of art, including but not limited to cubism, surrealism, abstract art, and then most of all the Mexican Moralism of Mexico.  These influences can be seen in the subject matter (people, walls, light & shadow, rituals, nudes, shop windows, city life, Mexican culture) and photographic styles that he experimented with though out his career.

The Crouched Ones

The Crouched Ones

He had shown his work in exhibits with some of the era’s most notable photographers, and on his own.  A short list of the 150 plus exhibits he had, were at the Pasadena Art Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, and the San Diego Museum of Photographic Arts.  Internationally he had exhibits in Israel, Spain, India, China, and Portugal.  He was the forerunner of photography in Mexico and trained that generation of photographers, beginning the Mexican photographic tradition.

Below are a couple of examples of his work, but do a search or visit the sites listed below and you’ll see the expanse of styles that his career took.

A small gallery of his work, look at the sites for more examples and information

Websites for further learning and exploration


Quotes by Manuel Alvarez Bravo

“A photographer’s main instrument is his eyes. Strange as it may seem, many photographers choose to use the eyes of another photographer, past or present, instead of their own. Those photographers are blind.”

“I feel I’ve done my part. I think I contributed something, in whatever way I did. I’m at peace in that respect.”

“One could think of a person who seems to have two opposing and contradictory sides to his personality; but it turns out that in the end the two sides are complementary. The same happens with an artist’s work: deep down, what appear as contradictory sides are merely different registers, different aspects of the reality that the artist inhabits…”

“Interested since always in art, I committed the common error of believing that photography would be the easiest; the memory of intents in other fields make me understand now that I found my road on time.”

 “I just get the will to do it.  I don’t plan a photograph in advance…  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.”

“I’ve never pursued anything.  I let things pursue me.  This is the way I’ve led my life, not just in photography.”

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