Mexichrome: Photography and color in Mexico

Discover a side of Mexican photography history in which color is essential.

Balcony (I) (1985) by Carlos Jurado (Colección y Archivo de Fundación Televisa)Fundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Introduction

Although techniques for taking color photographs arrived in Mexico as soon as they were invented, until the 1980s the high costs and complex developing procedures discouraged many local photographers. 

Mayan God of rain (1956) by Juan Guzmán (Colección y Archivo de Fundación Televisa)Fundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Furthermore, there was a prejudice that only black and white communicated the essential truths, both for the artist and the photojournalist. Mexichrome tells another story, in which color is an essential part of the image, as it is an essential part of the world. 

Giovanna, Puerto Angel, Oaxaca (1975) by Rodrigo Moya (Archivo Fotográfico Rodrigo Moya)Fundación Televisa Collection and Archive

In the words of American photographer Joel Meyerowitz, who visited Mexico for the first time in 1962: “If we accept the idea that a photograph is basically a description of things, then a color photograph is a broader description.”

The column, from the series “Inhabiting the void” (2000) by Alfredo De Stefano (cortesía Alfredo De Stefano)Fundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Landscape

In its essence, the landscape is a manifestation of both the majesty of nature and the interpretive gaze of those who contemplate, capture, and transform it. 

Wall, near Los Indios, Texas, from the series “The Border Cantos" (2015) by Richard Misrach (cortesía Richard Misrach)Fundación Televisa Collection and Archive

The first color landscapes tended to emphasize pure, nationalist spaces, without human interventions. As time went by, photographers directed their lenses towards human intervention in cultivated, intervened, and even painted landscapes.

Travelers (2011) by Yolanda Andrade (cortesía Yolanda Andrade)Fundación Televisa Collection and Archive

The prehispanic-past

The reproductions and reconstructions of the pre-Hispanic pyramids of Mexico are as numerous as the clichés about the supposed chromatic charm of the country. 

Untitled (1949) by Armando Salas Portugal (Colección y Archivo de Fundación Televisa)Fundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Although many of the ancient sculptures and buildings were originally painted with rich colors, the passage of time stripped them of their splendor, leaving pale ruins that barely shine among the vegetation. It is a challenge to imagine that lost world in its chromatic richness.

Housing decorated with Olympic motifs in the Isidro Fabela neighborhood (1968) by Bob Schalkwijk (Galería Almanaque Fotográfica)Fundación Televisa Collection and Archive

The painted walls

Many photographers have paid attention to Mexican vernacular architecture, cataloging the use of color to frame windows, doors or interiors. These chromatic compositions serve as a backdrop for passersby, cars, daily life. 

Patzcuaro, Michoacan (ca. 1984) by Gabriel Figueroa Flores (cortesía Gabriel Figueroa Flores)Fundación Televisa Collection and Archive

The contemporary trend among some photographers has been to move towards walls painted in a more monochromatic manner, resulting in compositions that are as abstract as they are evocative.

Untitled, from the series “Tlacotalpan" (1970-1990) by Mariana Yampolsky (Archivo Mariana Yampolsky, Universidad Iberoamericana)Fundación Televisa Collection and Archive

"Although most of my photos are in black and white, my memories are in color because I have lived with images saturated with color", Mariana Yampolsky.

Hotel lobby, Mazatlan (ca. 1950) by Paul Outerbridge (Colección y Archivo de Fundación Televisa)Fundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Modern architecture

In the 1940s, with the arrival of technologies in Mexico that increased the production of color photographs, the perception of the capital and its architecture evolved towards chromaticism. 

Fernández House, Arq. Francisco Artigas (1957) by Roberto y Fernando Luna (Archivo personal de Roberto y Fernando Luna)Fundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Although advertisers encouraged this process by promoting tourism, architects and their specialized magazines also contributed.

Untitled, from the series “Disappeared” (2005-2006) by Maya Goded (cortesía Maya Goded)Fundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Anxiety and violence

Black and white creates a sense of detachment from the country's tragic past. The Mexican Revolution appears distant because in our imagination its actors and events exist only in silver prints on gelatin. 

Karla on the ruins of the dance floor of the Lago Blanco night club (2016) by Teresa Margolles (cortesía Teresa Margolles)Fundación Televisa Collection and Archive

However, in the last fifty years, the portrayal of a Mexico marked with anxiety and violence has been widely represented in color.

Tehuana (1937) by Luis Márquez (University of Houston Library, Special Collections)Fundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Antropology

The anthropological perspective focuses on the physiognomic diversity and cultural practices of the various groups that inhabit the Mexican territory.

Toral-Esquivel Family. Merchants, from the series “Family portrait” (1992) by Lourdes Almeida (cortesía Lourdes Almeida)Fundación Televisa Collection and Archive

This perspective, grounded in historical traditions of representation, has generated significant interest in documenting not only native peoples or mestizo societies, but also urban subcultures and the country's middle and upper classes.

Amecameca Market, from the “México Lindo I” portfolio (1942) by Mario Bucovich (Colección particular)Fundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Markets and trade

The history of commerce is a constant in Mexican life, from the flea market to the contemporary supermarket. 

Woman Folding Clothes (1995) by Melanie Smith (Colección particular)Fundación Televisa Collection and Archive

These spaces not only shape our geography, but also stablish regimes of visuality where color is used to direct our attention to the product.

Untitled, from the series “Tepito, Bravo el barrio!” (2005) by Francisco Mata Rosas (cortesía Francisco Mata Rosas)Fundación Televisa Collection and Archive

“The way I have always looked at it is the world is in color. And there’s nothing we can do about that”, William Eggleston.

Tócuaro 1, from the series “Death on the Altar" (2002) by Tomás Casademunt (cortesía Tomás Casademunt)Fundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Religion and ceremony

Religious devotion has given rise to a rich and sometimes overwhelming visual culture in Mexico. 

Procession during Holy Week, Huahuacherare, Sierra Tarahumara (1973) by Bob Schalkwijk (cortesía Bob Schalkwijk)Fundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Some photographers have directed their attention to details, particularly the flowers that abound on the altars of rural churches; in the offerings and mosaics adorning the entrances of brightly painted churches.

Virgin of Guadalupe (1987) by Lourdes Almeida (Museo de la Basílica de Guadalupe)Fundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Others have photographed the Christmas and Day of the Dead altars; and the Virgin of Guadalupe, an omnipresent figure in Mexican photography.

Standard Bearers, Mexico City (ca. 1954) by Walter Reuter (Archivo Walter Reuter, Gilberto Chen Charpentier)Fundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Flag

An unavoidable topic for documentary and press photographers has been the national flag, intertwined with the patriotic fervor deeply motivated by official history. 

Peasants, July 4, 1983 (1983) by Héctor García (Fundación María y Héctor García)Fundación Televisa Collection and Archive

If today the flag remains omnipresent in the vision of photographers, after the tragedy of 1968, its images become more irredeemable and critical, reminding us of the symbolic fragility of its colors.
 

Altar to the homeland, Tijuana (2012) by Francisco Mata Rosas (cortesía Francisco Mata Rosas)Fundación Televisa Collection and Archive

Tour the gallery.

Credits: Story

This exhibition is based on the exhibition and catalog Mexichrome: Photography and Color in Mexico, the result of a research project coordinated by curator James Oles and developed in collaboration with Fundación Televisa and the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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