Daily Picture Show

Photography In Mexico (Or, At Least Some Of It)

There's a new exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which, assistant curator of photography Jessica McDonald emphasizes, barely scratches the surface of photography in Mexico. It's still called "Photography in Mexico" — and it's not a bad teaser for all our southern neighbor has to offer.

  • Nido de la Aguilas, Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, 1996
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    Nido de la Aguilas, Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, 1996
    Elsa Medina/Courtesy of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
  • La India Sioux en su recamara, Ciudad de Mexico (India Sioux in Her Bedroom, Mexico City), 1983
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    La India Sioux en su recamara, Ciudad de Mexico (India Sioux in Her Bedroom, Mexico City), 1983
    Lourdes Grobet/Courtesy of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
  • Que chiquito es el mundo (How Small the World Is), 1942
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    Que chiquito es el mundo (How Small the World Is), 1942
    Manuel Alvarez Bravo/Center for Creative Photography/Courtesy of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
  • Rescate de un ahogado en Xochimilco con publico reflejado en al aqua (Retrieval of a drowned body from Lake Xochimilco with the public reflected in the water), 1960
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    Rescate de un ahogado en Xochimilco con publico reflejado en al aqua (Retrieval of a drowned body from Lake Xochimilco with the public reflected in the water), 1960
    Enrique Metinides/Courtesy of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
  • Mujer angel, Desierto de Sonora, Mexico (Angel Woman, Sonora Desert, Mexico), 1979
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    Mujer angel, Desierto de Sonora, Mexico (Angel Woman, Sonora Desert, Mexico), 1979
    Graciela Iturbide/Courtesy of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
  • Worker's Parade, 1926
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    Worker's Parade, 1926
    Tina Modotti/Courtesy of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
  • Los agachados (The Crouched Ones), 1934
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    Los agachados (The Crouched Ones), 1934
    Manuel Alvarez Bravo/Center for Creative Photography/Courtesy of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
  • La Nuestra Senora de la Iguanas, Juchitan, Oaxaca, Mexico (Our Lady of the Iguanas, Juchitan, Oaxaca, Mexico), 1979
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    La Nuestra Senora de la Iguanas, Juchitan, Oaxaca, Mexico (Our Lady of the Iguanas, Juchitan, Oaxaca, Mexico), 1979
    Graciela Iturbide/Courtesy of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
  • Mexico City, D.F., 1966
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    Mexico City, D.F., 1966
    Manuel Carrillo/Courtesy of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
  • Nino obrero, Mexico (Child Labor, Mexico), 1986
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    Nino obrero, Mexico (Child Labor, Mexico), 1986
    Pablo Ortiz Monasterio/Courtesy of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
  • Boda en Coyoacan (Wedding in Coyoacan), 1983
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    Boda en Coyoacan (Wedding in Coyoacan), 1983
    Pedro Meyer/Courtesy of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
  • Fragmented Cities, Juarez #2, from the series Suburbia Mexicana, 2007
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    Fragmented Cities, Juarez #2, from the series Suburbia Mexicana, 2007
    Alejandro Cartagena/Courtesy of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

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Knowing in advance what her answer would be, I asked McDonald if she could describe Mexican photography. Granted, it's complex to generalize photography by nationality. "And its just as complex in Mexico," she says. "Instead of just thinking about picturesque landscapes and pictures of villagers and stereotypical images of Mexico, this [exhibition] shows that it's a much more complicated situation."

Another reason it's complex, and why the show is called "Photography In Mexico" — not "Mexican Photography" — is that many of the featured photographs were taken by visiting international artists like Edward Weston and Tina Modotti, who, in turn, would influence many of the photographers who followed.

The exhibition language says it "offers a survey of the last century of photographic practice in Mexico, extending from the period of political and cultural reconstruction that began in the 1920s following the Mexican Revolution to recent works that investigate the complex region surrounding the country's border with the United States."

A recent gift of about 50 photographs from a Los Angeles couple prompted the museum to take inventory of its existing collection. If you're unfamiliar with Mexican photography, here's a springboard for a deeper examination:

To learn even more, check out Texas State University's Witliff Collections, which has the largest holding of modern and contemporary work by fine-art photographers and photojournalists in Mexico. Or, if you already have a favorite, tell us in the comments.

Photography in Mexico is on display through July.

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