There are few Mexican photographers more influential and well known than Manuel Alvarez Bravo. He was an artist, not just of photography, that focused on the principles of the Mexican people and its social movements. His legacy is one that is evident in his revolutionary and iconic works of art. It is only appropriate that the modern day exhibit that bears his namesake is located in the heart of Oaxaca. His lifetime of photography has played a role in forming the national and political identity of Mexico.
Manuel Alvarez Bravo was born February 4, 1902 in Mexico City. He lived and was raised in downtown Mexico City until the death of his father. This led to him dropping out of school at a young age to work in the nearby textile factory. His love for photography was not an accidental one, both his father and grandfather had been amateur photographers. When he was in his twenties, he had begun to work for the government. It was during this time that he decided to take on photography and art seriously. His foray into photography began with his own practice and experience, but he received education and practice in painting from the San Carlos Institute. He was enamored by a great multitude of styles and forms. Yet, in the end he took after a more modern approach and aesthetics. Manuel eventually died on October 19, 2002 at the age of 100. Though he dabbled in painting and worked in film industry at various points, he is remembered for his work in photography and is featured in hundreds of exhibitions in Mexico and elsewhere.
Stylistically speaking, Manuel differed heavily from his peers in the way he formed his message through his chosen medium. Some of his peers, such as Juan Rulfo, preferred to form scenes of the Mexican landscape and people. Manuel, in contrast, took a much more direct and particular way of getting his point across. Take for example the photo Obrero en huelga, asasindo (1934). The photo shows the prone body of a recently killed Mexican worker. For additional effect, the blood trail from the victim’s blood pool leads directly to the position of the photographer. Bravo’s photos are meant to portray the problems of the class warfare that was commonplace in Mexico during the 1900s. Bravo’s style can be divided into three different attitudes, as described by Arthur Ollman. The first of these is a person that focuses on the pre-Columbian aspect. This perspective takes a personal interest and fanaticism in the aspects of the native life, gods, and culture. The second of these is the Revolutionary. This one places an importance on the social struggle of the Mexican people in the social warfare that was previously touched upon. Finally, there is the perspective that is Europeanized. This aspect is aware of the Anglo expectation of the Mexican culture and people and utilizes it to extend his culture (Benjamin R. Fraser, Chasqui, 115-119).
Whether it is revolutionary or Euro-centric, Manuel Alvarez Bravo is an important aspect of the Mexican culture and history. His work epitomized the revolutionary movement and the attitude of the Mexican people.