The Surreal and Sublime Photography of Graciela Iturbide

Documenting the resilience of Mexican women

By Google Arts & Culture

Autorretrato con los indios seris, desierto de Sonora, México (1979) by Graciela IturbideFundacion MAPFRE

Born in 1942, Graciela Iturbide is today one of the best-known photographers in Mexico. Her work looks away from the sensational images of violence that have for years defined the nation, and instead looks inwards, to the traditions, faces, and unusual sights seen everyday.

Carnaval, Tlaxcala, México (1974) by Graciela IturbideFundacion MAPFRE

Iturbide came to photography later in life. She was the eldest daughter of a wealthy, conservative couple. In 1962, she married the photographer Pedro Meyer and had three children. It was after the death of her daughter in 1970, aged just 6, that Iturbide turned to photography.

México (1969) by Graciela IturbideFundacion MAPFRE

She enrolled in filmmaking at the Universidad Nacional Autónama de México, but found greater interest in photography. She quickly found work as an assistant to her tutor, Manuel Álvarez Bravo. In 1971, she was award a grant and a scholarship at the Guggenheim College.

Novia muerte, Chalma, México (1990) by Graciela IturbideFundacion MAPFRE

In 1978, during a trip to Europe, Iturbide met Henri Cartier-Bresson, whose work and thought provided significant inspiration. She has also cited the Tina Modotti, and the documentary photographer Sebastiao Salgado, as influences on her practise.

Nuestra Señora de las iguanas, Juchitán, México (1979) by Graciela IturbideFundacion MAPFRE

This is perhaps her best-known photograph. Titled, Nuestra Señora de Las Iguanas (Our Lady of the Iguanas), it was originally published as part of her photo essay Juchitán de las Mujeres (1979-86), a project which began with Iturbide's support of feminist causes.

Mujer Ángel. Desierto de Sonora, México (1979) by Graciela IturbideFundacion MAPFRE

Iturbide was also involved in documenting the indigenous cultures of Mexico. This image, Mujer Ángel, in which a woman carries a tape recorder on her journey to ancient cave paintings. was shot in 1979 in the Sonora desert, when Iturbide was living with the Seri Indians.

Torito, Coyoacán, Ciudad de México (1983) by Graciela IturbideFundacion MAPFRE

In many of her photographs there is a sense of playfulness and strangeness. These qualities are at odds with many people's expectations or experiences of Mexico. Iturbide has always strived to look beyond the lurid headlines, to the absurdity of life.

Angelito mexicano, Chalma, México (1984) by Graciela IturbideFundacion MAPFRE

Folk stories and religious themes are common throughout her work. Particularly when the visual language of the catholic church meets ancient native traditions and the realities of contemporary life.

El señor de los pájaros, Nayarit, México (1995) by Graciela IturbideFundacion MAPFRE

In the 1990s, Iturbide started photographing landscapes and birds. She had heard the Seri Indians talk of the significance of birds, and she began to incorporate living and dead birds into her art; symbolic of strength and fragility, freedom and vulnerability.

Cholos, White Fence Gang, East Los Ángeles, Estados Unidos (1986) by Graciela IturbideFundacion MAPFRE

Iturbide has also worked beyond Mexico. In the mid-1980s she photographed Mexican-Americans in Eastside Los Angeles, many of whom were involved in street gangs. The cholos and cholas of the White Fence Gang would later feature in the anthology A Day in the Life of America (1987).

Autorretrato, México (1989) by Graciela IturbideFundacion MAPFRE

Today, at the age of 80, Iturbide is still exhibiting around the world. In 2008 she was awarded the prestigious Hasselblad Foundation Photography Award, and in 2021 she won the Outstanding Contribution to Photography at the Sony World Photography Award.

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