(Mexico 1902 – 2002)
18.3 x 24.8 cm image; 25.0 x 30.2 cm sheet
‘Disorder is a form of order. And from the disorder one can form a determined order.’ Manuel Alvarez Bravo 1
The rich visual cultures and tradition of Mexico are a constant in the long photographic career of Manuel Alvarez Bravo who, despite his physical distance from the artistic European pulse, was both influenced by and highly regarded by the surrealists. Breton was particularly interested in his work, commissioning photographs such as ‘The good reputation’ 1938–39 and reproducing his work in the final issue of ‘Minotaure’, commenting on his poetic evocation of the palpable atmosphere of Mexico. Alvarez Bravo and Octavio Paz collaborated on a book of text and images, ‘Instante y Revelación’, in which Paz wrote that Alvarez Bravo photographs ‘that imperceptible crack between the image and its name, between sensation and perception’.2
Alvarez Bravo’s engagement with the nuance of human gesture and subtlety of signification is epitomised in the truncated form of ‘Salomé’, a confident mature body posed by a window with aggressively outstretched hands in an evocative play on dance and castration. The veil-like curtain and carved head on the platter, together with the hand movement, reference the biblical Salomé who performed the dance of the seven veils in exchange for the head of St John. The light across her breasts and torso emphasise the womanly shape with stretchmarks and signs of life. ‘Margarita de Bonampak’ 1949 (AGNSW collection), however, portrays a young Mexican woman whose direct downward gaze is obscured, making her face seem mask-like and inanimate. The angle of the shot emphasises the body beneath which is denied to the viewer, the only hint of her sexuality revealed by the flow of her hair over the adolescent breast.
1. Kaufman F 1997, ‘An essay of memories’, ‘Aperture’, no 147, New York p 8
© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007
Judy Annear, World without end - Photography and the 20th century, Sydney, 2000, 101 (illus.).
Judy Annear, The Enigmatic Object, Sydney, 1997, (illus.). no pagination or catalogue numbers
Donna Brett, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'The surreal aesthetic', pg.113-129, Sydney, 2007, 118, 126 (illus.).
The Enigmatic Object, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 15 Apr 1997–22 Jun 1997
World Without End - Photography and the 20th Century, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 02 Dec 2000–25 Feb 2001
The surreal aesthetic, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 28 Jul 2007–14 Oct 2007