Mexico – Beyond the Wall

November 23, 2019 – December 28, 2019

Ellen Auerbach (1906 – 2004)
Manuel Álvarez Bravo (1902 – 2002)
Manuel Carrillo (1906 – 1989)
Eliot Porter (1901 – 1990)
Aaron Siskind (1903 – 1991)
Paul Strand (1890 – 1976)

Fences are for keeping things in or out, often with good reason: keeping children and pets close to home, for privacy, and for aesthetics. Walls are barriers.  Definitely for isolation, “KEEP OUT”.

What is happening at our southern border is an abomination of our values as well as being inhumane.  Our basic human inclination, to love and help one another, is being challenged by a misguided president whose racist beliefs now unfortunately represent our country.

Our love for the Mexican people and their culture is evident everywhere, especially for those of us living in the southwest: language, food, clothing, iconography, and our basic human values.  Our shared border is purely geographic.

The influence on our history has informed both our nations of artists working in all mediums.  Photographically our fascination and love for each other’s culture has been a subject by many.  This exhibit features the work of Ellen Auerbach, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Manuel Carrillo, Eliot Porter, Aaron Siskind, and Paul Strand, all whose visions captured the beauty, humanity and essence of the Mexican culture which is soon to be on the other side of the wall!

Manuel Álvarez Bravo and Manuel Carrillo were born and raised in Mexico.  Both have deeply personal connections to their culture and people, using their camera to interpret, document, reveal and reflect with a high photographic aesthetic that results in compelling and sensitive photographs.

Carrillo and Bravo were lauded during their lifetimes as the photographers of their homeland. Carrillo, with a forthright documentary style, focused his camera on the markets, families, children and mothers, and dogs that live as members of the population that traverse the streets of Mexican village life. His often poignant and alluring pictures captured the beauty and love he had for his beloved people.

Manuel Álvarez Bravo, the father of Mexican photography, approached his subjects from the perspective of the artist. A contemporary of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, friends of Edward Weston and Tina Modotti, “Don Manuel” focuses on the life and culture of Mexico with a surrealist eye making riveting compositions that reveal and comment on Mexican life. Many of his “signature” images have become icons of both Mexican photography and the broader history of photography.  The mystery and ambiance of his photographs have influenced a generation of photographers in Mexico, as well as internationally.

The other artists in the exhibit are all American who spent time in Mexico, some for a few months at a time, some for several years.

When people think of Eliot Porter they immediately think of his landscape work, but Porter traveled extensively in his life and photographed in many different environments. Mexico, its churches and culture, was one of those places that touched him deeply.

On an extended trip through Mexico in 1955 – 1956, Eliot Porter and Ellen Auerbach traveled thousands of miles and visited several hundred churches and chapels.  Much of what they photographed no longer exists today or has been considerably altered.

These churches have never before been photographed to this extent, with such meticulous attention paid to every detail of their exuberance and splendor. Under often difficult conditions and low lighting, it takes a master like Eliot Porter to produce such glowing and skillful records.                                            

Donna Pierce
Mexican Churches, University of New Mexico Press, 1987

Through the centuries the churches of Mexico have served their communities as true sanctuaries – places of quiet refuge for personal communion with saints and places of worship for the reaffirmation of shared beliefs.  The most important events of a person’s life take place in the church setting: baptism, confirmation, marriage, funeral, and communal celebrations, as well as, for many Mexicans, the daily ritual of mass.   

In their portraits of saints, Porter and Auerbach have captured the spirituality of the Mexican people.  Although few humans are visible in the photographs, their presence is felt and their devotion to the saints is apparent.  These photographs serve not only as portraits of saints, but also portraits of faith.

Donna Pierce
Mexican Churches, University of New Mexico Press, 1987

Paul Strand is considered one of the most significant photographers of the 20th century. His breakthrough work in the 1910s heralded photography’s importance as a modern art form. Early in his career he broke from the soft, impressionistic Pictorialist style to produce some of the first abstract images made with a camera.

In 1932, Carlos Chavez, director of the Fine Arts Department of the Secretariat of Public Education, invited Strand to document the changing landscape and people of Mexico.

During the two years Strand spent in Mexico, his work shifted towards a more humanistic approach. His subjects included churches, small towns, religious iconography, and the Mexican people. The work was published in his monumental portfolio, the Mexican Portfolio.  It includes 20 photogravure prints.

Aaron Siskind is another photographer who was greatly influenced by his time in Mexico.

Aaron Siskind was greatly influenced by his time in Mexico. With an illustrious career that spanned half a century, Siskind is known for detailed photographs of weathered city walls, graffiti, and other found textural surfaces. Aesthetically aligned with the Abstract Expressionist Movement. He explained, “First, and emphatically, I accept the flat plane of the picture surface as the primary frame of reference of the picture.”

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