Guillermo Kahlo, Photographer: 100 Years On

Fototeca Nacional, INAH

This exhibition showcases the interiors of churches, from the lavish to the austere, found in different parts of Mexico.

A century has passed since the German photographer Guillermo Kahlo took on a large photographic assignment in Mexico: a "Survey of Churches in Federal Ownership." He learned photography in his adoptive country and came to master it.
With his heavy Century camera, Kahlo traveled around Mexico City as well a number of Mexican states that included Jalisco, Guanajuato, México, Morelos, Oaxaca, Puebla, Querétaro, San Luis Potosí, and Tlaxcala.
He documented each monument in the same way, starting with a general view of the exterior, followed by the facade and views of the interior from the part below the choir to the apse, and vice versa.
This was followed by the altarpiece, if there was one, and then the dome and other details, finishing with the towers or vaults. While he always followed this routine for the monuments he considered to be more architecturally impressive, he did also show the rest as part of the best photographs of the site, since there was always a view that showed the building properly as a whole.
This meticulous survey was carried out using 11 x 14 inch glass plate negatives, used to print this series of photographs, which are just a small sample of Guillermo Kahlo's work. He created flawless pictures characterized by order, proportion, balance, and symmetry. He was able to do this thanks to his command of the technique, and by carefully studying the space that he was going to photograph in advance.
These photographs include some detailed studies of the lavish splendor of the New Spanish Baroque interiors in the churches of Ocotlán in Tlaxcala, and La Enseñanza in Mexico City. These are in stark contrast to the 19th-century interiors, devoid of ostentation, and others that were more traditional in style although no less distinguished, such as the churches of San Juan Bautista in Mexico City, and Santa Cruz in Metepec, in the State of México.
Although Kahlo's survey was neither the first nor the only architectural survey undertaken during Porfirio Díaz's presidency and subsequent years, it is a superb example of the photographer's first-rate work. It shows how photography could be used as a means of recording and surveying, while also capturing the aesthetic and artistic values that make it part of Mexico's photographic heritage.
Credits: Story

Curator and text: Mayra Mendoza

Credits: All media
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