Born Dolores Martínez in Jalisco, Mexico, Lola Alvarez Bravo (1903–1993) was one of Mexico’s most important photographers. Like other women artists linked with famous male counterparts, her work has often been overshadowed by that of her husband, renowned photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo. They married in Mexico City in 1925 just as Manuel’s photography practice began to develop. Manuel introduced Lola to the camera, the darkroom, and photography techniques, and she assisted him with developing and printing his images. They shared equipment when Lola began taking her own photographs, although Lola recalled Manuel’s impatience when she wanted to use the camera. In 1927 their son Manuel was born and they opened a photography gallery in their Mexico City home. The couple played a vital role in the cultural circle that included artists Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Rufino Tamayo, Maria Izquierdo, and David Alfaro Siquerios.
Lola continued to take photographs but her work always came second to Manuel’s development as an artist. They separated in 1934 and Lola turned to photography to support herself and her seven-year-old son. Stubbornly independent, her camera became both her livelihood and her means of portraying what she explained as “the life I found before me.” She traveled throughout Mexico photographing people in everyday circumstances with honesty and respect. Her assured formal aesthetic, which often bordered on the abstract, included strong compositional elements, crisp details, and the play of light and shadow on surfaces.
Most often Alvarez Bravo eschewed posing subjects or staging situations. Instead, she moved amongst the people along cluttered streets, observing them at work, in the marketplace, and at leisure, waiting for opportunities to capture informal moments in carefully composed scenes. Her keen eye produced stirring and expressive images of Mexican life with a contemporary sensibility that places her among the renowned photographic interpreters of that country in the modern period: Edward Weston, Paul Strand, Tina Modotti, and Manual Alvarez Bravo.
During her long career, Lola Alvarez Bravo worked as a photojournalist, commercial photographer, professional portraitist, political artist, teacher, and gallery curator. Despite her professional success, it is her personal photography that marks her most significant contribution to the history of the medium. While working professionally she culled a small, core group of photographs she would refer to as her personal work, “mis fotos, mi arte.” The photographs in the Center’s collection are among those she most valued and are in the spirit of that distinction. Her direct, uncompromising, and impassioned studies of the Mexican people offer an important chapter to the history of photography, both as creative force and indelible subject matter.
The Center acquired the Lola Alvarez Bravo Archive in 1996. It includes her negatives and nearly 200 gelatin silver photographs, 100 of which were selected by Lola Alvarez Bravo in 1993. An additional 100 photographs were selected by the Center in consultation with the artist.