A Fleeting Glance: Guillermo Kahlo in Mexico City

Fototeca Nacional, INAH

A tour of early 20th-century Mexico City through the photographer's lens, in the collection of the Fototeca Nacional (National Photographic Library).

Carl Wilhelm Kahlo Kauffman, known in Mexico as Guillermo Kahlo, was born in Pforzheim, Germany, in 1871. He emigrated to Mexico in 1890, first working in the commercial sector, and later managing the accounts of commercial establishments owned by German citizens.

On June 12, 1894, in the presence of a public notary, he presented his application for naturalization to the Mexico City Council. He expressed his wish to remain in the country permanently, "because of feelings of affection and attachment to this country […] and wishing, in addition, to enjoy the rights of a Mexican citizen." He added that, almost a year previously, he had entered into "marriage with a young Mexican lady," which was certified by a document held in Mexico City's Historical Archive.

In 1898, he started working on photographic architectural surveys, with a series of photographs documenting the construction of "Casa Boker," which was finished a number of years later.

In 1901, he advertised in the magazine "El Mundo Ilustrado" (The Illustrated World) as a photographer of buildings, interiors, rooms, factories, etc. In 1904, he published his first collection of images in the form of an album called "Mexiko," in German and Spanish.

During the 1910s and 1920s, he earned a prestigious reputation as a photographer of architecture and group portraits—an element of his work that is rarely mentioned.

Kahlo's way of looking at the monuments and sites that he photographed was flawless, diligent, and precise. It was the result of his meticulous approach, in which he would first analyze the space, both inside and out.

He would also study the light at different times of the day in order to decide on the best time to take a photograph, using long exposures that meant that any people in the scenes could not be seen.

In addition, his photography had an aesthetic element to it that, unlike 19th-century pictorialism, was uncluttered, clean, and precise, allowing the viewer to observe the magnitude of the building, even down to its smallest details. This has positioned Guillermo Kahlo as one of Mexico's most significant architectural photographers of all time.

Credits: Story

Curator and text: Mayra Mendoza

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