Academic journal article Afterimage

The Performance of Everyday Life: Reflections on the Photography of Graciela Iturbide

Academic journal article Afterimage

The Performance of Everyday Life: Reflections on the Photography of Graciela Iturbide

Article excerpt

I have always thought that a photographer is a stranger who doesn't want to be one."(1)

For over 20 years Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide has been producing a most impressive and important body of work that represents indigenous cultures within the boundaries of the Mexican state. She has published several books in Mexico, most notably Juchitan de las Mujeres (1989) and En El Nombre del Padre (1993).(2) Despite exhibitions at the Museums of Modern Art in San Francisco and New York, and having received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1988, critical and scholarly recognition of her work in this country has been slow in coming. Gratefully, this glaring absence in photographic discourse will be remedied by the publication later this year of a monograph by Aperture.

I first encountered Iturbide's work in a solo exhibition in 1989 at the Galeria de la Raza, a community gallery in San Francisco's Mission District. It was one of those rare encounters in a gallery setting in which I had the overwhelming experience of total immersion, of leaving the everydayness of my world and giving myself over to the indigenous women of Mexico as imaged by Iturbide. In reflecting upon this experience, thoughts about photography and its relation to ethnography, subjectivity, fantasy, place and identity all came into mind. It was not that long ago when the operative models of photographic practice were artists like Brassai, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, et. al., whose "camera-as-passport" strategy gave them access to diverse, foreign, sometimes public and sometimes secretive worlds. By extension, the viewer of the images could have exotic, dangerous, cynical, whimsical or naughty visual experiences while never having to leave the safety of the home or gallery. While still a common practice, this version of straight photography has of course lost its preeminence in art schools for the present generation of photographers. The alleged death of the photographic author, the postmodernist critique of representation, the ethical problems inherent in the observer/observed dynamic, and a general mistrust of photography have all contributed to the dismantling of the modernist paradigm of photographic activity. Although I have participated in this paradigm shift (proclaiming not pictures, but pictures about pictures), I must admit that I have ambivalent feelings about the resulting state of photographic practice and education.

Clearly it's a good thing for artists, particularly photographic artists, to be aware of photography's historic complicity in the construction of stereotypes and other representations. Because representations matter, because they are obvious and insidious, powerful and seductive, the practice and analysis of representation becomes the arena of conflict, as individuals and communities attempt to reassess and re-present identity and to question the authority of the canon. That being said, who hasn't noticed the increasingly fragmented, shrinking and often narcissistic and solipsistic worlds being described by contemporary photographic work? Presumably out of fear of "misrepresenting the other," artists of good conscience have turned more and more inward until the only acceptable strategy is to question the assumed fixedness of their own identity. Dressing in drag and photographing yourself, for example, does not equal rebellion or transgression.

Frank's Americans, Arbus's New Yorkers, Brassai's Parisians, August Sander's Germans, Bill Brandt's Londoners, Josef Koudelka's Gypsies - we no longer give permission to such ambitious projects. The circle of allowable representation has retracted even within the previous paradigm; today's well-known photographers no longer turn their cameras audaciously upon such a wide field; there is a turning inward toward more easily defined communities - Sally Mann's kids, Larry Sultan's parents, Nan Goldin's fucked-up friends and Tina Barney's boring family. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.