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Mexico Photography: Graciela Iturbide

Graciela Iturbide was born in Mexico City, in 1942.  She was born into a wealthy, catholic family, and was the oldest of 13 children.  Her only exposure to the art of photography was the pictures her father took of her and her siblings. Iturbide’s first career choice was to be a writer, but because of her family’s conservative viewpoints, she wasn’t allowed. 

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In 1969, Iturbide enrolled in the National Autonomous University of Mexico to learn how to be a movie director.  Manuel Alvarez Bravo, a master photographer of the time, was teaching at the university.  Iturbide became interested in his work and became an assistant to him for a year.  While working alongside him, she discovered that photography was a way to express herself and the poetry that was all around her.

The Ethnographic Archive of National Indigenous Institute of Mexico commissioned Iturbide to photograph Mexico’s indigenous population in 1978.  She chose to photograph the Seri Indians.  They were a group of nomadic fishermen, who lived in the Sonora desert.  It was during this time that she took, what she feels to be, one of her best photographs, “Mujer Angel”.  She, “...liked the fact that they were autonomous and hadn’t lost their traditions, but had taken what they needed from American culture.”

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In 1979, Francisco Toledo, a Mexican painter, invited Iturbide to photograph the people of Juchitan.  The city had been used for inspiration in the 1930’s by artists, and Toledo was hoping to reignite that interest.  Iturbide accepted the invitation and fell in love with the city.  She visited so often between the years of 1979 and 1988, that she considered it a second home. 

While in Juchitan, Iturbide met the Zapotec women.  She was inspired by their independence.  These women ran the economy and local community.  In 1979, she took her most famous photograph, Nuestra Señora de las Iguanas.  This photograph showed a woman, wearing a crown of iguanas on her head.  It inspired murals, statues, and signs around the town.  She released a monograph in 1988, titled, Juchitan de las Mueres.

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Iturbide once said, “…in the end, photography for me is just an excuse to get to know the world.”  She moved on from Juchitan.  She went on to take pictures in Cuba, East Germany, India, Madagascar, Hungary, Paris, and the United States.  She continued to use the same high-contrast, black and white style that she was known for.  She showed the deep importance of cultures that were often overlooked.

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Graciela Iturbide holds honorary degrees from the San Francisco Art Institute and Columbia College Chicago.  She has received numerous awards, in recognition of her work.  She continues to live in Mexico City.

Iturbide’s photography was a way for her “to get to know the world”.  Her “world” ended up stretching far past the boundaries of Mexico.  Although, not many of us will get the opportunity to stretch that far, we can use photography to examine our own little piece of the world.  The lens of a camera often sharpens our focus on details that we might otherwise miss. 

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