SFMOMA's “Photography in Mexico” Tracks the Birth — and Burgeoning — of a Movement

Politics runs through “Photography in Mexico.” The exhibit, at SFMOMA through July 8, includes shots taken in the 1920s following the Mexican Revolution, ones documenting social injustice, and those of the border region between the United States and Mexico.

The photos of Tina Modotti and Edward Weston open the show. These include Workers Parade (Modotti) and Pirámide del Sol, Teotihuacán (Weston). The photographers went to Mexico City in 1923, and while there were studios on every corner, photography was not considered an art form, says Jessica McDonald, the curator of this show. Modetti and Weston held exhibitions and encouraged photographers that art photography was a viable path. One person they encouraged was Manuel Álvarez Bravo, later one the most influential photographers in Mexico.

Bravo, whose iconic photos include a striking worker, shot, lying in a pool of blood,

was struggling to document the events in his country and find an identity, McDonald says.

“Post-revolution, people were trying to find the essence of Mexicanness,” she says. “They were trying to think about Mexican identity after centuries of colonial oppression.”

The cultural, social and intellectual movements going on in Mexico interested artists in other parts of the world, McDonald says. For instance, the leader of the Surrealist movement, Frenchman André Breton, a friend of Bravo's, visited Mexico City and later said that in Mexico, Surrealism — considered by Breton to be a philosophy for living rather than just an artistic movement — was a part of everyday life.

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