Four young “cholas” looking tough in East Los Angeles. A fearless woman in Juchitán, Mexico wearing several live iguanas on her head. An indigenous woman forging her way through the Sonora Desert with her long hair flowing behind her and a boom box in hand.
These are all powerful images captured by Graciela Iturbide, one of the most acclaimed photographers in the world and one of the most prolific Mexican photographers alive today. The Mexico City-native, who studied filmmaking at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) and worked with the likes of Manuel Álvarez-Bravo, has made a career photographing a range of still-life scenes and human subjects, oftentimes marginalized women. Her portfolio has gained international recognition, including the Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography in 2008.
From Thursday, Sept. 8 to Saturday, Oct. 15, the Ruiz-Healy Art gallery will feature Graciela Iturbide: A Lens to See, a solo exhibition of Iturbide’s work. The show is in conjunction with FOTOSEPTIEMBRE USA International Photography Festival and features works from the Wittliff Collection at Texas State University.
Many of Iturbide’s photographs have been praised for their portrayals of women that stray from common representations of the female form in an objectified or sexualized way. The photos in the exhibition place a special emphasis on women and their dignity as individuals, whether they’re in a domestic setting or in the middle of the Mexican desert.
On Sept. 8, Ruiz-Healy will host an opening reception from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at its location at 201-A E. Olmos Dr., where Iturbide will be present to speak about her work. It will be her first time back in San Antonio in quite some time.
The Rivard Report asked Iturbide a few questions in Spanish via email ahead of her exhibition about life as a photographer, feminism, and exploring different cultures from behind the lens. See her translated responses below.
(For the Spanish version of this article, click here.)
Rivard Report: Tell us about your latest work.
Graciela Iturbide: My last project involved photographing the migrants from Honduras and El Salvador who are running away from the Maras Salvatruchas. The Mexican police treat them very badly, unfortunately. They take away their belongings and ask them for extortion money.
After that, my assistant and I went to Colombia, where people are displaced due to the drug traffickers and the guerrillas and (are) in really deplorable conditions.
RR: When were you last in San Antonio?
GI: I’ve been various times, but I really don’t remember when the last time was.
RR: The works in the show are taken from the Wittliff Collection at Texas State University – your largest archive. Is this in a sense a retrospective of your life’s work? If so, what do you want people to take away from the exhibition?
GI: It’s not a big exposition. Fortunately, the Wittliff Collection lent us the pieces of work, which I appreciate very much. I photograph in a very subjective way and I imagine that the public will also observe in a subjective way.
RR: What do you think women will take away from it compared to men?
GI: That I definitely do not know.
RR: You have brought a fresh eye for how people see women in Mexico, specifically through your work in Juchitán, dating back to the 1980s. This led many to classify your work as feminist. How would you define yourself? How do you define feminism? Do you consider yourself a feminist?
GI: I just got back from Juchitán last night. I went to give a talk at a cultural center that is managing a youth cooperative. I am a feminist, but my book about Juchitán, the photos of the women were casually published. They are very strong women that carry the economy of Juchitán, but they also are very different from the rest of the women in the country. They are women who I admire a lot.
RR: Stepping outside the world of art, and reflecting back since you began your career, what kind of advances have women made in Mexico when it comes to achieving equality?
GI: There are feminist groups in Mexico who have fought to obtain life and work benefits for women. It’s on all of us – civil society – to cooperate so that there is total equality.
RR: In recent years, a wave of contemporary artists have decided to move to Mexico City. Could you speak about this change and what the art scene looks like now as opposed to one decade ago?
GI: Having contact with different artists and fostering that communication has helped amplify the art scene. A lot of things are happening in Mexico and this is attracting many artists, which has made our art scene bigger and more diverse. The bad thing is that this development may also generate trends that make people view the city in a superficial way.
RR: In the beginning of your career you started out in the medium of photojournalism and traveled with Miguel de la Madrid during his presidential campaign. What advice would you give to a young photographer today who is thinking about getting into photojournalism in Mexico?
GI: That work, I only did it for two days. I generally don’t like to work on campaigns for presidential candidates. To all the photographers, I say work in the field you want to be in. I recommend that you have passion and discipline.
RR: How has your experience working outside of Mexico been? How much will your experiences abroad inform what you do in the future?
GI: Fantastic. I’ve always said that the camera is a great excuse to get to know the culture of the world.
RR: Could you tell us about your experience working at the King Ranch?
GI: Cina (Forgason) invited me to work in Texas, but not precisely at the King Ranch. I worked in Santa Gertrudis and it was very pleasant work, which I thank Cina for.
RR: We’ve heard you have been working in India. Could you tell us more about that?
GI: India has been a very important place for me. There are different cultures, different religions, and a lot to learn there, too.
RR: What is the relationship you form with your subjects in order to photograph them?
RR: How has the move from print to digital photography changed your practice?
GI: I still do analog photography. For me, it’s a ritual.
Assistant Editor Camille Garcia and Editorial Assistant Rocío Guenther contributed to this article.
Top image: El señor de los pájaros. Photo by Graciela Iturbide.