Manuel Alvarez Bravo
'The Crouched Ones'
Museum no. 232-1976
Alvarez Bravo's photographs show a detachment from the highly politicised artistic creation of his contemporaries such as the Mexican mural painters and the Surrealist movement. His work should not be seen as wholly autonomous, however, since he met and discussed photography with leading figures such as Paul Strand and Cartier-Bresson and he also shared with his Mexican contemporaries a concentration on the lives of Mexican people. This image showing a line of men seated at a bar is a good example of the compassionate yet unromantic way in which he represented everyday life.
'He often brings our attention to the peripheral, or sub-dramatic, moments or transactions or places. It is often as though the photograph had virtually composed itself.' Jane Livingstone, 'M. Alvarez Bravo', London 1978
It is also typical of the short depth of field which Bravo used in his images; he tends rather to use light and shade to articulate mood. In this photograph the deep shadow ominously used to blank out the heads and features of the drinkers is contrasted with the luminosity concentrated in the lower part of the image and specifically on the chains which join the bar stools. The chains seem to symbolise the chaining of the unidentified group to the bar and, to take the symbolism a step further, of the working man to alcohol.
Manuel Alvarez Bravo began to develop an interest in photography in his early twenties, buying his first camera in 1924. He met Tina Modotti in 1927 when she was working in Mexico City, and through her sent his portfolio in 1929 to Edward Weston, who was impressed by Bravo's work.
He taught photography at the Academy of San Carlos in 1930 (when Diego Rivera was director) and again in 1932-3. He was commissioned in 1930 to photograph painted murals by Mexican artists including Frida Kahlo and David Siqueiros.
During the 1930s Bravo was exposed to many artistic influences through meeting leading cultural figures including Paul Strand in 1933, with whom he developed a close friendship, and the Surrealist poet and artist André Breton (who was living in Diego Rivera's house in 1938). He also met Henri Cartier-Bresson in 1934 and they had a joint exhibition the following year, which was shown in New York and Mexico.
During the late 1940s and 1950s Bravo was employed as a photographer and cameraman at the Mexican Institute of Cinematography and carried out very little personal photographic work. He left the Institute in 1959 to begin the Editorial Foundation of Mexican Plastic Arts, which published fine art books of Mexican art in which many of Bravo's photographs of Mexican material culture appeared. Bravo donated his early photographs to the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico in 1972. He died in 2002, in Mexico City.
This photograph can be found in Print Room Box 13b.