Photos to Intimidate and Fall in Love With

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There are a number of reasons why the remarkable photographs by Graciela Iturbide probably would not be used in an advertising campaign to lure tourists to Mexico. She works primarily in black and white, and neither the landscapes nor the people in her work appear to be particularly genteel. On the contrary, her powerful images tend to rattle and put you on guard, as if you had stumbled into a not yet explored physical and emotional territory connected to the ancient past.

at071218b.jpgBorn in Mexico in 1942 into comfortable circumstances, she attended Catholic school, married early and gave birth to three children, but after that, the narrative of her life was anything but smooth. Early in the marriage, she experienced the tragic loss of her daughter, killed in an accident; years later, she got divorced. Through all that, she maintained close contact with the great Mexican photographer, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, first as a student and later as his assistant. He became a lifelong mentor, encouraging her to develop her own artistic vision.

at071218a.jpgA new exhibition at the Getty Museum of more than 160 photographs by Graciela Iturbide is a captivating presentation of three decades of a career characterized by unsentimental depiction of the life of indigenous people in her own country and around the world. Her photos of the sacrificial slaughter of animals taken in Oaxaca, in the city of Juchitán, contain equal amounts of horror and splendor, befitting such an ancient ritual. The women of this matriarchal society appearing in her photos are neither particularly feminine nor traditionally beautiful; they are magnificent and intimidating -- as you might imagine prehistoric idols brought to life. Earning the trust of these women, Graciela Iturbide was able to create a series of images of rare authenticity and beauty.


When she was invited to come to Los Angeles to make a new body of work, she befriended some rather tough-looking 'boys' and 'girls' in East LA who knew all too well how to strike a frightening pose. What might surprise you is that in the resulting photographs, instead of disappearing behind a mask, each man and woman has a distinct and palpable personality. In the end, you cannot help but give them grudging respect, a testament to Graciela Iturbide's art.

at071218d.jpg The second exhibition of photographs at the Getty Museum pays tribute to André Kertész

(1894-1985), who was born in Hungary but later moved to Paris and subsequently, New York. One of the most beloved practitioners of his trade, Kertész was able to make the invisible visible and to turn the ordinary into pure poetry. His early, stamp-sized photos force you to stare at them at such close range that your nose virtually hits the glass, but it's a worthwhile effort.


Quietly, these small images lead you into a lost world of tranquility and harmony that, once experienced, is impossible to forget. Throughout seven decades of his long career, Kertész enjoyed an unprecedented ability to see with fresh eyes Paris and New York, the most photographed cities in the world. I wouldn’t be surprised if his romantic photos of these cities are reproduced in tourist guidebooks for years to come.

The Goat's Dance: Photographs by Graciela Iturbide
On view at the Getty Center through April 13, 2008

André Kertész: Seven Decades
On view at the Getty Center through April 13, 2008

Banner image: André Kertész, Broken Plate, Paris; Negative, 1929; print, 1970s; Gelatin silver print; 7 5/8" x 9 3/4" (19.4 x 24.8 cm)