A diverse collection of photos by Mexican and international artists taken between 1920, following the Mexican Revolution, and the present is on display at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

The exhibition “Photography in Mexico” is divided into six sections organized along thematic and chronological lines and “focuses on photographs made by Mexican photographers,” says curator Jessica S. McDonald.

In the first section are works by international artists inspired by the flourishing of art in Mexico in the 1920s. “Mella’s Typewriter” is a photograph of Julio Antonio Mella’s typewriter—his instrument for fomenting political change—taken by visiting Italian photographer Tina Modetti after Mella was gunned down while walking beside her in Mexico City.

Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Parabola optica (Optical Parable), 1931; gelatin silver print; 9 3/4 in. x 7 1/4 in. (24.77 cm x 18.42 cm); Collection of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser; © Colette Urbajtel / Asociación Manuel Álvarez Bravo


Works by Manual Alvarez Bravo, an abstract photographer aligned with Surrealist artists, dominate the second section which highlights the photos of Mexican photographers inspired by artists visiting from abroad. One of his most acclaimed pieces is “Boy Urinating,” published in 1927 and “Optical Parable” a work that plays with perspective.  His first wife Lola Álvarez Bravo was also an accomplished photographer with snapshots like Los gorrones.

Enrique Metinides, “Rescate de un ahogado en Xochimilco con público reflejado en el agua,” (Retrieval of a drowned body from Lake Xochimilco with the public reflected in the water), 1960; gelatin silver print; 13 3/4 x 20 3/4 in.; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Anonymous Fund purchase; © Enrique Metinides


Photos in the third section consist mostly of illustrated press photos taken from the 1940s to 1970s and include works by Nacho Lopez, Hector Garcia and Rodrigo Moya who focused their work on social and economic inequities and the common man. Shots by crime and traffic photojournalist Enrique Metinides are also included.

Lourdes Grobet, Ponzoña, Arena Coliseo, ca. 1983; gelatin silver print; 14 x 11 in.; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, gift of Jane and Larry Reed; © Lourdes Grobet


Two galleries make up the fourth section, which follows the turn to participatory documentary photography that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s in Mexico and features photos from Pedro Meyer and Lourdes Grobet, a photographer best known for her prints of performers from the spectacle that is Mexican wrestling.

Alejandro Cartagena, Fragmented Cities, Juarez #2 from the series Suburbia Mexicana, 2007; inkjet print; 20 x 24 in.; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Accessions Committee Fund purchase; © Alejandro Cartagena

Questions of land use and urban development pervade the work of contemporary Mexican photographers Alejandro Cartagena and Pablo López Luz. The fifth section also contains photographs from Yvonne Venegas who examines issues of class by capturing with her lens the lifestyle and major life events of a wealthy Tijuana family.

The photography in the sixth and final section looks towards the United States-Mexico border and illuminates the empty spaces and cultural collision that occurs in these barren landscapes that often provokes complex emotions.

The photo exhibition opens to the public on Saturday, March 10 and will run until July 8. For more information on supplementary events associated with the exhibition see the SFMOMA site.