Yesterday was a day off from work. In my perpetual but futile quest to expand my horizons, I went to the Snite Museum of Art at Notre Dame to hear a lecture by Elizabeth Ferrer, an expert on Mexico's first female photographer, Lola Alvarez Bravo. The Snite is the final stop for a traveling exhibit of Lola's work.
I was, of course, out of my element among people who had the luxury of attending a lecture at noon on a weekday--students, professors, artists, couples sporting scarves and the latest in fashion eyewear, etc. When the lecturer referred to a photographer as "someone you're all familiar with," I felt particularly out of place. I tried to take notes, but it was hard to do in the darkened auditorium. I did manage to scrawl a few notes on index cards. I wrote on one of the cards, "Yellow Log," which I thought was an unusual name for a Mexican town, where one of Lola's more well-known photos was taken. Only after the lecture, when I had a chance to see the exhibit, did I discover the photo's title is "Enterrio en Yalalag (Burial in Yalalag)." The picture shows a rural funeral procession.
One of Lola's photos which Ms. Ferrer showed in her presentation won second place in a contest sponsored a cement company. This is not the sort of thing one expects to hear in a lecture about artistic photography. Personally, I think cement is amusing--so much so, that I included "concrete" as an interest in my Blogger profile, along with dust bunnies, dietary fiber, shiny objects, tropical parasites, weather maps, and hockey pucks.
So, anyway, what's the connection between great art and the quotidian material, cement? Well, in 1931, the Mexican cement manufacturer, La Tolteca, sponsored a photo contest. The theme of the contest was--what else?--cement. Lola's picture showed a concrete structure producing strong shadows. It's not possible to tell what the structure is because the camera is relatively close, leaving only a sense of light and shadow and geometric shapes. Lola's husband did a similar thing, probably with the same camera, and won first place. Isn't that always the way? Even today, I can't find a copy of Lola's picture online, but there is a link at the end of this post to a copy of Manuel's. While casting about the internet for information about the Alvarez Bravos, I found out that Manuel did a photo called "X-Ray Window," a picture of a storefront in Mexico City displaying framed medical radiographs. It's not clear to me whether this was an X-Ray lab or an art dealer. I must admit that I am somewhat jaded after looking at thousand upon thousands of X-ray exams, but occasionally I find images of internal human anatomy to be things of beauty--I'll try to post an example sometime in the future.
X-Ray Window by Manuel Alvarez Bravo
Entierro en Yalalag by Lola Alvarez Bravo
La Tolteca by Manuel Alvarez Bravo