9 Famous Mexican Photographers and Their Best Photos
The work of the most famous Mexican photographers of all time tells a fascinating story about this country. Through the images of Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Graciela Iturbide, and many others, you can feel a genuine version of Mexican culture.
This is the kind of Mexico you don’t see on TV shows and Netflix films.
Rather, these photographs taken by famous Mexican photographers depict real people living real lives over a period of many years. In a sense, the combined work of these artists is the true image of Mexico during the 20th century. And that has an immense value.
Today, I’ll explain why photography changed the visual arts forever, and how it impacts society even in our times. Then, I’ll take you on a long journey through the lenses of some of the most outstanding photographers you’ve never heard of.
If you love art, or you’re interested in Mexican culture, you’re going to love this.
How do Photographers Enhance our Perspectives and Worldviews?
Art, and the artists who create it, have this outstanding power to “influence humanity’s collective consciousness.” It makes a difference in society, and opens new paths for exploration of our minds and souls.
Photography, on its part, is the artistic expression that “changed everything in the visual arts.” First, it revolutionized the way we represented reality, as it brought a whole new level of precision and realism that painting could never achieve. Secondly, the impact that photography has in politics and current affairs is undeniable.
Through their work, photographers expand our spirit with a reflective artwork, or question our political beliefs with an intelligent piece of photojournalism. In the case of famous Mexican photographers, their work is a window into the culture of this enigmatic country.
Why Are These Photographers Relevant to Mexican Culture?
The collective work of the most famous Mexican photographers is a testimony of the Mexican way of life and its evolution during the 20th and the 21st centuries. From the black and white pictures of Casasola that documented the Mexican Revolution, to the sordid images of Metinides registering life and death in the streets of a modern Mexico City, the work of these photographers is invaluable.
9 Famous Mexican Photographers
The following list of famous Mexican photographers includes not only the most famous, but also the most successful and recognized in the worlds of art, journalism, and advertising.
1. Manuel Alvarez Bravo
Widely recognized as one of the most important Latin American photographers of the 20th century, Alvarez Bravo is the dean of all famous Mexican photographers. Born in Mexico City in 1902, he was famously a self-taught photographer interested in portraying the “cultural heritage, peasant population, and indigenous roots of the Mexican people.”
Influenced by the passionate movement of Mexican muralism on one hand, and French surrealism on the other, Alvarez Bravo developed a unique style that earned him numerous awards and an inclusion of his work in UNESCO’s Memory of the World registry.
The image below perfectly represents the vision that Alvarez Bravo had of his work and of Mexican culture. The simplicity of the composition contrasts with the deep eyes of this indigenous girl from the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. A simple image, a strong message.
Title: Margarita de Bonampak
Credit: Gift of Mr. & Mrs. Harvey M. Krueger, 1980
2. Graciela Iturbide
Iturbide was born in the same city as her mentor Manuel Alvarez Bravo, but 40 years later, in 1942. She enrolled in the university with the idea of becoming a film director, but soon was drawn to still photography.
In her work she gives voice to two of the most discriminated minorities in Mexico: women and indigenous people. Her images are filled with life and humanity, in black and white portraits that explore “the role of women in Mexican society.”
In one of her projects, Iturbide went to the Sonora desert to capture the way of life of the semi-nomadic Seri people. Mujer Angel (Angel Woman) is perhaps the most famous image from that series: a strong woman in the middle of the desert with a boombox at hand. A powerful and symbolic image.
Title: Mujer Angel (Angel Woman)
Credit: Graciela Iturbide
3. Francisco Mata Rosas
One of the most famous Mexican photographers of his generation, Mata Rosas has jumped from committed photojournalism at the leftist Mexican newspaper La Jornada, to artistic photographs included in important collections all over the world, to the automatic but real world of Instagram.
Mata Rosas has an extraordinary talent to express the realities of human conflict and continually chooses the right places to do it. One of his projects explores the struggle of the indigenous people of Chiapas during the armed conflict of the 1990s; in another work, he goes to the border between Mexico and the US and lets his camera tell the stories that happen there every day.
Right at the border, a couple of immigrants kiss and express their love to each other before trying to cross the imaginary line that separates them from their dreams. They may not have much, but still have each other.
Title: La Línea (The Line)
Credit: Francisco Mata Rosas
4. Eunice Adorno
Eunice Adorno is one of the most famous Mexican photographers of her generation. She was born in Mexico City in 1982, and her career has been nothing short of impressive so far. Miss Adorno studied photography at the Joop Swart Masterclass from World Press Photo in Amsterdam, she’s received the Mexican government scholarship for young creators several times, and a grant for script writing too.
Although Adorno started in photojournalism, she has since evolved as a photographer and now focuses her talent in long-term documentary projects. Her work has been published by National Geographic, Gatopardo, Vice, New Yorker, and Time, among many other international media outlets. She has had exhibitions in Madrid, Praga, Los Angeles, Milan, and New York, and participated in group exhibitions around the world.
Adorno has an interest in portraying the distinctive way of life of specific Mexican communities that have a strong relationship with the past. Her most celebrated work Mujeres Flores (Flower Women), documented the world of Mennonite women living in northern Mexico. “The images focus on the emotional bonds between these women and reveal peaceful and harmonious moments,” which allow us to perceive their lifestyles in a different light.
Title: Mujeres Flores (Flower Women)
Credit: Eunice Adorno
5. Lola Alvarez Bravo
Lola’s story is in many ways similar to that of another successful Mexican artist, her friend Frida Kahlo. Although Lola was born in the state of Jalisco in 1903, she was raised by her brother in Mexico City, where she met her husband Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Mexico’s most celebrated photographer.
As Frida, Lola lived under the shadow of her famous husband and her own talent was minimized before being finally recognized. After her marriage ended, Lola’s career started to take off and she had a solo exhibition in Mexico City. During the 1950s, she ran her own gallery in the nation’s capital, where she presented Frida Kahlo’s only solo exhibition in Mexico.
An artist and a feminist, Lola’s work portrays the people and places of a Mexico that in her own words “no longer exists.” Lola’s photographs are exhibited in museums’ collections of New York, Washington, and Los Angeles among others. In this image published in Olivier Debroise book “Lola Alvarez Bravo: In her Own Light,” Lola captures Frida’s enigmatic personality.
Title: Frida Kahlo
Credit: Colección Manuel Alvarez Bravo
6. Flor Garduño
Garduño was born in Mexico City in 1957, but at the age of five she moved to a farm on the outskirts of Mexico City where she developed a strong connection with nature. She studied at the renowned San Carlos School of Fine Arts in Mexico City, and when one of the perennial teachers strikes at the university started, she enrolled in the class of the only teacher who wasn’t on strike: Hungarian photographer Kati Horna, who became a huge influence in her career.
Just like Lola Alvarez Bravo, Flor Garduño went on to work as an assistant to iconic Mexican photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo. With him, she refined her style and learned from the best. Her work pays homage to the indigenous peoples of the Americas, “in a perpetual search for the subtle boundaries of the imaginary; a portrait of the roots of magical cultures.”
This image is part of “Trilogy,” a collection of photographs taken by Garduño throughout the years. The first part of this work is called “Bestiarium,” which features “real and fictional images of enchanted animals come to life as metaphors of our dreams and passions.” The legendary bird of the Andes, and the indigenous people that inhabit those highlands, pose together in an almost surreal image.
Title: Familia y Cóndor (Family and Condor)
Credit: Flor Garduño
7. Mariana Yampolsky
Mariana Yampolsky was a Jewish American born in Chicago in 1925, who came to Mexico to study art, fell in love with the country and never left. She became a Mexican citizen in 1958 and went on to become one of the most famous Mexican photographers of last century.
Yampolsky studied photography with Manuel and Lola Alvarez Bravo, the famous couple of Mexican photographers who were a great influence in her work. In the 1960s she traveled around Mexico taking over 66,000 photographs, some of which would later be shown in solo exhibitions in England, the Netherlands, and Mexico.
Yampolsky focused on providing an accurate account of Mexico’s rural life and the different aspects of the surrounding poverty. Her pictures weren’t staged as she liked to capture the normal lives of the people she portrayed, as you can see in this image that communicates so many things about the life of a Mexican indigenous woman. The shadows in the composition and the bare feet walking on an empty sidewalk, are great examples of the way Yampolsky liked to work.
Title: Cielo (Sky)
Credit: Mariana Yampolsky
8. Fernando Aceves
Sometimes it seems that Mexican culture is all about its past and indigenous peoples, or that to be a photographer in Mexico you need to travel to small villages and take pictures of what takes place in them. However, there’s another side of Mexico’s culture, a modern, forward-looking one, and Fernando Aceves is the perfect example of that.
Aceves was born in Mexico City in 1965, and by the 1990s he was taking pictures of Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones, and Ozzy Osbourne, among many other rock stars. In 1997, he documented David Bowie’s only visit to Mexico, and those images became a solo exhibition 20 years later.
Fernando Aceves style is direct and professional, he lets his characters tell their stories and provides them with the right balance and composition. His work is refreshing and fundamental for the history of rock in Mexico.
Title: David Bowie en Teotihuacán (David Bowie in Teotihuacan)
Credit: Fernando Aceves
9. Agustín Víctor Casasola
To close down this list of famous Mexican photographers I’m including the founder of the first Mexican press agency, Agencia Fotográfica Mexicana (Mexican Photographic Agency) in 1911. Casasola was born in 1874, and covered the Mexican Revolution for the newspaper El Imparcial (The Impartial).
Casasola understood very well the importance of keeping a register of the national life through its images. By 1920, he co-founded the Mexican Association of Press Photographers and kept working all his life in growing and improving a collection of photographs known today as the “Casasola Archive.”
Casasola has been regarded as the photographer of the Mexican Revolution. He certainly put together a fundamental collection of pictures of the revolution in his Casasola Archive. However, we can’t be certain that all the images in the collection were personally taken by him. This historic photograph of a soldier boy is a good example of that, the author of it is presumably Casasola, but we can’t attribute it to him with certainty. Casasola’s main role in the history of Mexican photography was understanding the need to keep an historical archive and so, he created one.
Title: Mexico City
Credit: Agustín Víctor Casasola
Talk About Famous Mexican Photographers
This has been a long and productive journey through the lives of some of the most famous Mexican photographers. If you were to explore deeper in the work of each one of them, your understanding of Mexican culture would grow exponentially.
Which Mexican photographer is your favorite and why? Leave me a comment to let me know!
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