A vast and varied landscape with the subconscious quest of El Dorado as a backdrop has made Mexico a fascinating place for photographers.
Mexico is a land steeped in religion and superstition. Ancient cultures have heavily influenced modern society creating a melting pot of different ideas and traditions.
NB: This article contains images which may be distressing to some readers
1. Graciela Iturbide – Angel Lady of the Sonora Desert, 1979
Graciela Iturbide, Mexican photography’s leading lady, has documented her native country for decades, creating an ethnographic portrait of the vast land. Highly influenced by Mexican modernist master Manuel Alvarez Bravo whom she assisted in the seventies, her work focuses primarily on the Indigenous cultures of Mexico that still prevail. With a particular focus on the Zapotec women of Juchitan, the visual tropes seen in her work evoke the superstitious beliefs of the Mexican people. In “Angel Lady in the Sonora Desert’, a woman surveys the landscape, standing tall and almost specter-like in the foreground, like a mythical character from ancient stories.
2. Flor Garduno – Mexican Woman holding bound Iguanas, 1987
Flor Garduno’s arresting portrait of a young woman holding dead and bound iguanas captures a strange and brutal moment of beauty where the relationship between mankind and beast is called into question. Iguanas are native to tropical Mexico and are one of the countries’ national emblems. In the mesoamerican and Aztec religion, Iguanas have many symbolic qualities, but they are also captured and eaten in parts of the country. Flor Garduno comes from a long tradition of post-revolutionary Mexican female photographers who helped reinvent the countries’ artistic reputation across the world.
3. Jonathan Jasberg – “Leaving Santo Domingo”. Oaxaca, México 2023
One of our editorial team’s favorite rising street photographers, Jonathan Jasberg, is a self-proclaimed vagabond, who travels the globe, skillfully capturing everyday life with acumen and artistry. A typically dynamic image his depiction of a young girl selling candy outside a historic church as members of a wedding party begin to leave is beautifully timed and framed, demonstrating the impressive eye for color, light, tone, and composition that defines all of his work.
4. Tina Modotti – Mexican Sombrero with hammer and sickle, 1927
Tina Modotti, an Italian photographer who made some of her most famous work in Mexico between 1923 and 1930, was also a political activist during the Mexican revolution. Earning fame (and notoriety) through her romantic relationship with Edward Weston, she was also a socialite who was friends with Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Her studio work incorporated the revolutionary ideals she sought to propagate throughout Mexico in the lead-up and aftermath of the revolution. This striking image reinvents the typical poster-image of the hammer and the sickle with a Mexican twist.
5. Nickolas Muray – Frida Kahlo, 1939
Invited by a friend to visit, Hungarian-born Nickolas Muray traveled to Mexico, where he was introduced to the artist Frida Kahlo, a woman he would never forget. Thus started a romance that continued for a decade and a friendship that lasted the rest of their lives. Muray’s portraits of Kahlo have a unique and intimate perspective that only a friend or lover could share. Shedding light on Kahlo’s private life, Muray produced some of the most memorable and striking images of the surrealist artist. In perhaps one of the most famous portraits of Kahlo, she holds Muray’s gaze, standing confidently and powerfully in front of a plain white background, arms folded but ever fierce and questioning, the artist as art.
6. Daniel Ramos – Untitled. Mexico City
This captivating depiction of a typical Mexico City street scene by Daniel Ramos was chosen as the 2nd Prize Winner in our 2023 Street Photography Award by the legendary NYC photographer Richard Sandler who described it as ‘chaos transmuted into order for an instant’. Beautifully timed and framed, Ramos captures street vendors amid their vibrant performance, observed by onlookers as if they were actors and their audience, thus conveying perfectly the frenetic and lively energy of his home city.
7. Irene Baque – “Oaxacan bows and ruffles”
This wonderful image by Irene Baque depicts a group of girls adorned in traditional festive dresses within the village of Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, and was selected as a finalist of our 2023 Color Award by judge Greg Girard. This southern Mexican state boasts one of the country’s largest indigenous populations and is renowned for its distinctive cultural traditions. Baque’s creative composition offers a snapshot of this vibrant culture, the unique angle and keen eye for color capturing the intricate details and tones of the girls’ outfits
8. Mary Ellen Mark – Acrobats at the Vazquez Brothers Circus, Mexico City, Mexico, 1997
Mary Ellen Mark, who brought together her photographs of circus performers from Mexico and India in her book Man and Beast, called the circus a “universal form of theater.” Her drive to document the individuals who performed in these traveling institutions stemmed from her desire to listen to the voices of those living on the margins of society. Mark loved Mexico and taught photography in Oaxaca annually for over a decade. Thus her pictures of the Mexican people are highly intimate- tinged with the viewpoint of someone who really knew them well.
9. Enrique Metinides – The death of Adela Legarreta Rivas, 1979
Adela Legarreta Rivas is struck by a white Datsun on Avenida Chapultepec, Mexico City, 29 April 1979
Known as the ‘Mexican Weegee’, Enrique Metinides was always the first at the scene of the crime or disaster. It’s as though tragedy followed him around. Inspired by the morbid curiosity that inhabits us all, Metinides made his name by photographing these daily events in a series called the “101 Tragedies of Enrique Metinides.” In perhaps what is one of his most famous photos, an image that stands out from his other work for its use of color, a woman lies dead in the foreground after having been struck by a car on one of the roads of Mexico city. The fact that the woman looks posed as though in some strange dance is a unique perspective on death that is typical of Metinides’ work.
10. Manuel Alvarez Bravo – Fireworks in the Barrio del Niño, 1990
Often remembered as Mexico’s most celebrated fine art photographer, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, captured the history of the country’s rapidly evolving geopolitical atmosphere. After the turbulent Mexican Revolution ended, a creative renaissance emerged in the country, at which point Alvarez Bravo made his name. His work explores the gradual abandonment of rural customs and the rise of a post-revolutionary culture with international influences.
Although considered part of the surrealism movement, Alvarez Bravo’s images also share approaches associated with modernism, inspired by his friend Edward Weston, and formalist ideas. He captures the mythic qualities of tangible objects and saturates them with poetic complexity.
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