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FEBRUARY 23, 2002 - MAY 31, 2002

Variaciones (Variations) 1995 – 1997
Photographs by Manuel Álvarez Bravo Make Last U.S. Stop at the Wittliff Gallery

February Opening Honors the Mexican Master’s 100th Birthday

Black-and-white prints by Mexico’s most famous photographer, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, are featured in a large traveling exhibit at the Wittliff Gallery of Southwestern & Mexican Photography on the campus of Texas State University-San Marcos in San Marcos. Thanks to the generosity of the Mexican Community Center and the Consulate General of Mexico at Austin, the show—curated by the Centro de la Imagen in Mexico City — makes its last U.S. stop at the Wittliff Gallery after touring Boston, Los Angeles and Miami. Shot between 1995 and 1997, these contemplative, yet highly expressive Variations capture the seductive magnetism Álvarez Bravo has found in line, form, texture, light and darkness since he began creating photographic art over seventy-five years ago.

February marks the centennial of the birth of the Mexican master, who at the age of 100 and nearly blind, continues to turn his camera on his country’s intimate spaces, translating ordinary moments into windows that open for the viewer onto universal visions, often pitting luminosity, movement and energy against shadow and stillness to create an attraction that transcends the boundaries of time and place. This collection in particular makes visual poetry of the natural landscape and its intersection with everyday life—it’s alive with glowing laundry, arabesques of gates and doors, and a series of trees that Patricia Mendoza, former director of Centro de la Imagen, describes as “a forest of shadows and interpenetrations, of embraces and imploring hands... whimsically shaped, almost human....”

The Wittliff Gallery hosted a nearly full house for the February 23rd opening reception—over 160 people turned out from the Austin, San Antonio and San Marcos areas. Guests began the evening by treating themselves to a tantalizing spread catered by Palmer’s Restaurant in San Marcos, while strolling through the gallery spaces for a preliminary view of the photographs. At 8 pm, Curator Connie Todd led the audience in a round of “Happy Birthday” and “Las Mañanitas,” honoring Álvarez Bravo’s 100th birthday.

Next, she introduced the event’s co-sponsors: Vicente Sánchez, Acting Mexican Consul General of Austin; Sergio Lozano, head of the Mexican Community Center at Austin; and Jerome H. Supple, President of TxState, who all offered their thanks and spoke briefly on the importance of this cross-cultural cooperative exhibit. Todd then turned the podium over to Pablo Ortíz Monasterio, prominent photographer, editor, writer, and critic from Mexico City, who entertained and informed the audience with a series of slides and anecdotes, impressing upon the group how significant Manuel Álvarez Bravo is to the history of Mexican photography.

Afterwards everyone enjoyed coffee and cake (decorated with a version of Don Manuel’s camera), then many people took to the exhibit one more time—for a renewed and enlightened look at the images. The case housing the chronology of Manuel Álvarez Bravo’s artistic career was a popular stopping point, as it supplemented Pablo Ortíz Monasterio’s interesting presentation with additional facts and images.

As the evening wound to a close, Señor Ortíz Monasterio commented on of the scope of the Wittliff Gallery’s archive of 7000-plus images and the importance of its growing Mexican photograhy collection, as it represents many of his country’s contemporary artists and old masters. He expressed a keen interest in returning for another visit—possibly for Río de Luz, a Wittliff Gallery retrospective featuring prominent photographers’ images of Mexico (Pablo Ortíz Monasterio’s among them) which will open in June.

During a recent panel discussion at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, Ortíz Monasterio spoke of the influence Bravo exerts on his own work:

“There is a mysterious element in his pictures that makes you wonder if what you see is really true or if there is another meaning behind it. ... Don Manuel is like a Zen Master, and his photographs can be like haiku. I enjoy the beauty and poetry of his pictures; they always make me feel and think different things. They keep being new; I don’t feel that I’ve seen them enough. As I have grown and changed as a photographer myself, Álvarez Bravo’s work has always been in front of me, like a carrot in front of the horse... .”

Variaciones 1995-1997 is co-sponsored by Texas State University-San Marcos, the Mexican Community Center and Consulate General of Mexico at Austin, CONACULTA (Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes), and the Mexican Community Program Abroad at SRE.