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GRACIELA ITURBIDE

April 23 - June 18, 2005 at RoseGallery, Santa Monica

by Jody Zellen


“The camera is an excuse to share the life of the people, the rhythm and simplicity of festivities, to discover my country. While using my camera I am, above all, an actress participating in the scene taking place at the moment, and the other actors know what role I play. I never think of my images as a project, I simply live the situations and photograph them; it is afterwards that I discover the images.”
--Graciela Iturbide

Graciela Iturbide came late to photography. Born in Mexico City in 1942, she was married and a mother of three before she embarked on her photography career. Looking for something new, she enrolled in film school in 1969. Here she was introduced to a visual way of thinking and the films of Fellini, Pasolini, Visconti and Bunuel. During her studies in film she also met the photographer Manual Alvarez Bravo, who later invited her to be his creative assistant. Traveling with Bravo, photographing Mexico’s indigenous people gave Iturbide a new insight into her own culture and its people. Influenced by both Bravo and the Surrealism of filmmaker Bunuel, Iturbide combined Bravo’s understanding of his roots with Bunuel’s fascination with religion and mysticism. She further displayed an ability to see the diabolic beauty in violence. Her work, while still documentary in nature, took on a psychological as well as spiritual edge that distinguished her from other photographers working in the ethnographic tradition.

To make her images Iturbide becomes more than an observer of her subjects. She arrives at a place, introduces herself and indicates that she will be there a while, that she wants to observe as an insider and not as a tourist. Somehow she gains the trust of those she is photographing and is allowed to participate in their culture. In essence she becomes part of the lives of her subjects. That her subjects come to trust her is evident in the images we see. As she said, she lives the situations while photographing them, and only later sees the images as documents of that process.

Iturbide came into her own as a photographer in 1979 after traveling to Junchitan in Oaxaca to do a photo essay on the women who lived there. Since then she has traveled all over the world making images that document people and places with a sensitivity to both the environment and to the interactions amongst her subjects. Her photo essays include portraits and landscapes that afford viewers an overall understanding of the place and its inhabitants. A photograph of blurred trees flowing in the wind can be juxtaposed with an image of an isolated child in a traditional Mexican costume. Each photograph, however, is made with a clarity of vision and a specific point of reference. Iturbide’s choices are not arbitrary. Every image has an urgency and is emotionally charged.

Iturbide’s work is not as well known in the United States as it deserves. Although a number of books have been published on her work, and a retrospective exhibition was organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1998, she is not a household name. Her work is just as likely to be politically charged as lusciously seductive. She finds the theatrical in everyday life, often creating a dream-like effect in the midst of the ordinary.


“Untitled” from “Oaxaca Botanical Gardens,” 2002, silver
gelatin print, 30 x 30”.





“Untitled” from “Santa Gertrudis
Ranch, South Texas,” 2002, silver
gelatin print, 30 x 30”.





“Untitled” from “Oaxaca Botanical
Gardens,” 2002, silver
gelatin print, 30 x 30”.





“Untitled” from “Santa Gertrudis
Ranch, South Texas,” 2002, silver
gelatin print, 30 x 30”.

The current show includes 15 of her latest images. Culled from her 2002 work documenting the Botanical Gardens at Oaxaca, as well as pictures taken when she was commissioned to document the Santa Gertrudis Ranch in South Texas, these images differ from her previous bodies of work in that there is an obvious absence of people. These square formatted black and white images depict nature’s struggle with the effects of man. In one image, knobbed trees appear to be fed intravenously. In another, sea gulls fly away, silhouetted behind the moired patterns of a translucent fabric fence. In one haunting image a lone tree pushes to escape from the confines of a tent. How and why man tries to tame, confine, and work with nature are the subject of these beautiful images. Two cacti are tagged with handwritten numbers. Cropped from above and below, all that is left is the anonymous mid-section of the plants.

The shift in direction in Iturbide’s work might be due to the death of her mentor Manuel Alvarez Bravo in 2002. Perhaps these works are images of mourning, rather than studies of culture and traditions. This selection of Iturbide’s oeuvre focuses on the details and what might be overlooked, and what is missed when something or somebody is gone.