Manuel Álvarez Bravo: When reality met color | Babelia

“Reality is more real in black and white,” writes Octavio Paz in Face to time, dedicated to Manuel Alvarez Bravo (Mexico City, 1902-2002). However, Don Manuel, always inquisitor facing the world, knew that achromatism does not translate or reveal reality better; He shows it differently. Hence, there are more than three thousand color images in your file.

Recognized as "one of the inventors of the modern vocabulary of photography" - in the retrospective that MoMA dedicated to him more than two decades ago - heterodox by nature, he was never subjected to theories or corsets, or artistic, or political, of Hence, the continued study of his archive contributes to free him from the labels and reductions to which his work has sometimes been subjected. "Photograph what you see, not what you think: the philosophy of a photographer must be to have none," he recommended to the youngest. Thus, when in 1976, Octavio Paz honored the photographer with his poetry, he echoed a current that disliked the use of color as something that disguised the matter, and deprived it of the richness of light and the rigor of black and white. Walker Evans I considered it "vulgar," Paul Strand, as a dye without "body, texture, or density." The Mexican author distanced himself from this trend, in 1984: “Great photographers, unfortunately already dead, have denied color, but I believe that color and black and white are two ways that are not excluded; and it is possible that there is a photographer who understands that he sees and feels exclusively in black and white, another in color, and a third party who may be interested in both ”.

"Álvarez Bravo is a photographer mainly of gelatin on silver," says James Oles, curator and historian, "His work in color is an experiment, within a tendency to explore and play with the new media at his disposal." Oles has collaborated with the artist's daughter, Aurelia Álvarez Bravo and the editor Ramón Reverte in the edition of Álvarez Bravo in color (RM), where it also contributes with a text. This is the first monograph dedicated entirely to the author's color images, and brings together the most significant, many unpublished.

The artist began to investigate with color in the twenties and then continue with more or less intensity and intermittently until his death. These color images would be exposed throughout his career from the forties. The study of this part of his work does not imply in any way necessary to review the figure of the author. “He is still a black and white photographer, but there are two important things that emerge from this work: he reaffirms his figure as one of the great geniuses of photography in Mexico in the twentieth century, and tells us about his fondness for history of photography, due to its complexity and its techniques. I was very curious. He was a researcher. A great experimenter. ” Oles highlights. “These photographs show us the complexity of his career, of his mind, as he tried to play with a medium through a technique that required materials that were not easily available in Mexico. The images give more density to their trajectory and reveal to us, even more, their complexity and their ideas ”.

A house reflected in the Oude Gracht, Haarlem, Holland (Homage to Monet; Monet Gracht), 1960.

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A house reflected in the Oude Gracht, Haarlem, Holland (Homage to Monet; Monet Gracht), 1960.

In his wandering the streets he looked at objects and everyday scenes proposing new and unusual ways of observing the world. “He avoided bright and distracting colors or contrasts, which allowed him to draw attention to the details of the composition,” writes Oles. The selection includes landscapes and unusual portraits, but the author's chromatic attraction becomes more evident in his interest in the colored walls of Coayacán (something that aroused the interest of many Mexican photographers in the forties), he was also interested in graffiti and the abstractions, "perhaps inspired by the lyrical expressionism of contemporary Mexican painters, such as Lilia Carrillo and Manuel Felguérez."

For the historian there is something that is very important: black and white photography is very difficult to date through photographs or prints because the technique does not change much. In the case of color photography that change of technique facilitates the task. Thus, by dating certain color images it has been possible to verify that the date attributed to some of the author's best known images, such as The dancers' daughterIt was wrong. “These differences are important in art history. They remind us that some of the most studied artists still have secrets to reveal, often through research. ”

Many of the works were never printed, or exhibited, or published during the life of the author. Thus, one of the great pitfalls found in the elaboration of the project is the uncertainty about the exact tones of the image, due to the degradation suffered by negatives and color slides over time. As pointed out by his restaurateur, Agustín Estrada, there is no certainty, one hundred percent, that the colors have been exactly as presented, hence, the work is valued as the interpretation of a current photographer of the work of a dead photographer What to do? “The purists would say that there is nothing to show because the material degraded, the artist died, the original wall was repainted ... Therefore, we cannot be sure how the original could be. A worthy and noble argument, ”says Oles. “There is a lot of resistance to giving color to something that never had it, as there is to the over restoration of paintings. But I am not a purist, none of the three editors are. We are not trying to destroy or criticize. Projects like this are made from the love of photography. ” It is a noble book, where we try to expose a part of forgotten work, not to rewrite the work, then we decide that since Don Manuel is not there and cannot comment, why not publish the images?

Manuel Álvarez Bravo in color. RM editorial. 136 pages 45 euros


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