Daily drama

Daily drama

Different Strokes

Daily drama

“The camera is an excuse to share the life of the people, the rhythm and simplicity of festivities, to discover my country… I simply live the situations and photograph them; it is afterwards that I discover the images.”
— Graciela Iturbide

When celebrated artist Frida Kahlo died on July 13, 1954, her husband, the famous muralist Diego Rivera (1886 – 1957), ordered that two private rooms of Kahlo’s home in Covoacan, Mexico city should remain closed for the next 15 years.

La Casa Azul (The Blue House), where Kahlo was born (in 1907), grew up and spent the last 13 years of her life, became a museum but the two rooms decreed by Rivera, for some reason, remained locked for 50 years.

In 2004, when the Frida Kahlo Foundation decided to open the locked up rooms, it invited renowned Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide (born 1942) to document the inner sanctuary. During her week-long stay, Iturbide captured the mood and objects of Kahlo’s bathroom which was a central place in her painful life. The resulting images were exhibited in Washington DC in 2007; and a book titled ‘El Bano De Frida Kahlo’ (Frida Kahlo's Bathroom) was published in both English and Spanish.

“I had the good fortune to be invited by the museum to work on this project,” recalled Iturbide. “It was very difficult for me to enter the bathroom and see all the objects that had been stored for so much time. I dedicated myself to interpret the objects of Frida, her corsets, prosthesis, etc., which is to say, the objects that related to her pain.”

Diverse genres
In her long and illustrious career, Iturbide has undertaken many interesting projects. She has always concentrated on producing a series of pictures instead of focusing on a single image. This has led to many evocative photo-essays and books which have enhanced her reputation as one of the most significant photographers of our time. 

Iturbide was a student filmmaker at the Centro de Estudios Cinematográficos, National University of Mexico where she met the famous Latin American photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo (1902 – 2002). She became his photographic assistant and developed a deep friendship which continued till the end of his life.

Iturbide, who began her career in 1969, is well-known for embracing diverse genres of photography: landscape, portrait, self-portrait, the nude, fashion, abstraction, documentation, and still-life. She received the esteemed W Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography in 1987; John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship in 1988; first prize at the Mois de la Photo in Paris (1989); the International Grand Prize in Hokkaido, Japan (1990), and the Rencontres International Award, Arles, France (1991).

More recently, she was presented with the National Award of Arts and Sciences (2009, Mexico), the PHotoEspaña Baume & Mercier Award (2010, Spain) and Achievement in Fine Art Award (2010, New York).

In 2008, she received the prestigious Hasselblad Foundation International Award which included the prize sum of Swedish Krona 5,00,000 (about USD 80,000) and a gold medal.

“Graciela Iturbide is considered one of the most important and influential Latin American photographers of the past four decades,” said the award citation. “Her photography is of the highest visual strength and beauty. She has developed a photographic style based on her strong interest in culture, ritual, and everyday life in her native Mexico and other countries. She has extended the concept of documentary photography to explore the relationships between man and nature, the individual and the cultural, the real and the psychological.”

Visual poetry
On her part, Iturbide confesses that photography had allowed her to ‘know’ her country, Mexico. “I don’t pretend to make my photographs speak the truth of what Mexico is all about. But, in its villages, I can feel the way culture is changing, and it’s fascinating to live through it and try to capture it on camera.”

Her very first series of photographs in Juchitán, Oaxaca in 1979, which documented the Zapotec Indian community, and highlighted the powerful role of women in the society, brought her international recognition.

While documenting the lives of indigenous peoples, she asserts that her work did not intend to mythologize them. “What I love about them is their way of mythologizing the mundane. Maybe, when you come down to it, photography serves as ritual for me.”

Critics have recognised how Iturbide has focused on the marvels of everyday life; and how visual poetry and magic run through the entire body of her work, providing a powerful bridge between her personal concerns and the wider reality she observes.

“I look for surprise in ordinary things that I could have found anywhere in the world. The unconscious obsession that we photographers have is that wherever we go we want to find the theme that we carry inside ourselves.”

According to artist–writer Jody Zellen, Iturbide’s choices are not arbitrary. “Every image has an urgency and is emotionally charged; 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.”

An avid traveller, Iturbide has visited many countries and taken photographs of people, objects and landscapes.  Among her many projects was one she collaborated with photographers Sabastião Salgado and Raghu Rai which resulted in an exhibition, India México, Vientos Paralelos, at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Chile in 2002. Iturbide, who has no interest in digital photography, still prefers to shoot on film. “I want to have time to take and develop my photos. Film allows, and even forces, you to take time with your work.”

An exhibition of photographs titled “The Eye of Graciela Iturbide” is currently on at Tasveer, The Gallery/ Sua House, Bangalore. The show includes her iconic black and white images like Our Lady of the Iguanas (Juchitan, Oaxaca), Angel Woman (Sonara desert) and a set of pictures shot at the ethnobotanical garden of prehispanic plants and the culture set on the grounds of a 16th century Dominican monastery in Oaxaca City.

Also seen are her photographs shot in several cities of India like Delhi, Jaipur, Pushkar, Khajuraho and Ajmer. The show concludes on 10th September.