February 29, 2024

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Manuel Alvarez Bravo – Mexico’s Greatest Photographer

(Note: Alvarez Bravo is a two-part surname, the beginning “A” properly has an acute accent)

b. 1902 Mexico City, Mexico
d. 2002 Mexico City, Mexico (natural causes)

With a career that spanned over seventy years, Manuel Alvarez Bravo was a photography pioneer. He is considered the most significant representative of 20th-Century Latin American photography and one of the great Mexican artists. His subject matter included folk art, nudes, and burial rituals and decorations. His best-known works are the beautiful “Good Reputation, Sleeping” from 1939, and the disturbing “Striking Worker Assassinated” from 1934.

Manuel Alvarez Bravo Mini Bio

Manuel Alvarez Bravo was born February 4, 1902 in Mexico City. He attended Catholic school from 1908 to 1914. In 1915, at 13 years old, his father died, and he left school to help support his family. He worked in a textile factory, and later at the Finance Ministry. He studied literature and arts at night school.

He met Hugo Brehme, a German photographer 1923. Soon afterwards he bought his first camera, and began to study photography seriously. His father and grandfather were both amateur photographers. In 1925, he married Dolores Martinez de Anda, who was to become a respected photographer in her own right, as Lola Alvarez Bravo. The same year he won a first prize at a local photography competition in Oaxaca. In 1927 he met Tina Modotti, who introduced him to the thriving arts scene in post-revolutionary Mexico City, and to artists such as Edward Weston, Diego Rivera, and José Clemente Orozco. He received important encouragement from Edward Weston after sending Weston some of his photos in 1929.

He began his career as a professional working for the journal Mexican Folkways in 1928. He replaced Tina Modotti at the magazine when she was forced to leave the country, due to her pro-communist views. This job allowed him to travel and photograph all over Mexico.

In 1935, Manuel Alvarez Bravo participated in a groundbreaking photography exhibit with Walker Evans and Henri Cartier-Bresson at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York City. Also in the 1930s, he taught photography at the San Carlos Academy. Between 1943 and 1959, he worked as a photographer in the Mexican film industry.

During his life, Manuel Alvarez Bravo participated in 150 individual exhibitions and over 200 collective exhibitions. Shortly before his death, in 2002 he attended a celebration of his 100th birthday at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City.

Manuel Alvarez Bravo died on October 19, 2002, of natural causes.

Important Exhibitions

1935 – Julien Levy Gallery in New York City

1971 – Pasadena Art Museum in California and New York Museum of Modern Art

1978 – Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.

1990 – Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego, CA

1997 – New York Museum of Modern Art