Lola Alvarez Bravo was a Mexican photographer known for her elegant portraits and dynamic. large-scale works of photomontage, which had a strong element of Surrealism. These collages were composed of fragments of hand-cut photos blown up to mural size, showing Mexican cityscapes and monuments.
Alvarez Bravo moved to Mexico City as a child and lived there through her long career. When she was studying at the Escuela Nacional Prepartoria, she met Frida Kahlo in 1922. The two became friends for life. In 1925, she married the famed photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo and assisted him with his work for many years. Soon she took photographs of her own and wanted freedom to do her own work. They separated in 1934 but would not divorce until 1948. She worked on her own to support herself and their young son and lived with her close friend the painter Maria Izquierdo. Both women were strongly influenced by the Surrealist-inspired aesthetic of contemporary Mexican artists.
Beginning her career as a teacher, she became one of the only women photojournalists in Mexico City. She catalogued photographs in the Department of Education and later ran the photography workshops of the National Autonomous University of Mexico for more than three decades.
In 1935, she began to make her photomontages and presented two of them in the exhibition “Carteles revolutionaries.” They were “The Dream of the Poor” and “Mermaids of the Air.” The first is a socially conscious portrayal of a child, sleeping in rags beneath a huge machine that is dropping coins on him. The second presents two mermaids, each holding onto a typewriter. It looks as if they are swimming or flying in the air. Her “Women’s University” was a photomontage which shows a young woman in the center, considering the career choices she could make for herself in post revolutionary Mexico. These are shown in a series of images surrounding her: artist, writer, journalist, teacher, or scientist.
Alvarez Bravo was aware of the unjust social system of modern Mexico. She went against the idea of touristy paintings, which portrayed the indigenous people of Mexico as picturesque and exotic. In one of her un-captioned photographs she shows the anguished figure of a native Mexican woman in front of bars, an image that echoes the fact that the woman’s lands had been stolen, leaving her to live in misery.
Even more characteristic of her photographs of Mexican indigenous people were her street scenes where she found strange juxtapositions of objects and people in contemporary urban life. In her photo “Bird’s-Eye View” a car is poised in a garage as a classical statue of a naked woman seems to be fixing it. The car’s empty wheel hub encircles the statue’s head like a halo. Her “Some Rise and Others Fall” conjures a mechanical social process of men walking on an open stairway that harkens back to Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis.”
Her first solo exhibition was held at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City in 1944. In 1951 through 1958, she had her own Gallery of Contemporary Art in Mexico City where she showcased the art of her friends, the leading artists of Mexico. In 1953, she presented Frida Kahlo’s only solo exhibition in Mexico during her lifetime and was the artist who took the last photograph of Kahlo as she lay dying.
In 1996, the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona acquired her archive of gelatin silver photographs and negatives. She was one of the Surrealist artists shown at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s “Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States.”
Her work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.