Based in a culture with artistic traditions going back centuries, Mexican photography has a unique quality that comes to the fore in a mammoth and diverse exhibition on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Installed in six galleries on the museum’s third floor, “Photography in Mexico: Selected Works from the Collections of SFMOMA and Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser” consists of more than 150 pieces; photographs from the 1970s and ’80s loaned or donated by Greenberg and Steinhauser are among the showcase works.
Mexican photography evolved in the 1920s, directly after the revolution, when the government played an important role in promoting Mexican art and welcomed foreign artists, particularly photographers, whose influence cannot be exaggerated.
When they arrived, Americans Tina Modotti and Edward Weston brought an alternative to the picturesque mode that dominated the Mexican photographic style. They inspired Manuel Alvarez Bravo, who became one of Mexico’s most important photographers, quickly developing a poetic style of his own.
In one of his most powerful and overwhelming, photos, “Striking Worker, Assassinated,” blood on the ground surrounds the body of a young man who is clearly dead — but his eyes remain open.
The exhibition also documents Mexican photography’s growth and development from the 1920s to the present. Political unrest after the revolution provided the ever-expanding field of newspapers and magazines with relevant photos. Nacho Lopez, a prominent photojournalist, produced high-quality photos rarely seen in newspapers.
Comprising another important genre are finely crafted, documentary-style studies of indigenous communities by Mariana Yampolsky and Graciela Iturbide.
The final section focuses on U.S.-Mexico border problems and immigration, featuring works by photographers from all over Latin America. “Patrol,” by Paolo Pellegrin, shows two individuals sneaking across the border; its dark coloring gives it an intriguing sense of mystery.
Photography in Mexico
Where: SFMOMA, 151 Third St., S.F.
When: 11 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. daily, except closed Wednesdays and open until 8:45 p.m. Thursdays; through July 8
Admission: $11 to $18; free for children 12 and under and half-price after 6 p.m. Thursdays
Contact: (415) 357-4000, www.sfmoma.org