Friday, July 06, 2007

Nudes, Manuel Alvarez Bravo

Nudes: The Blue House, a book of photographs by Manuel Alvarez Bravo is a beautiful object. It almost seems to be handmade with one of the nude photographs embossed in the left upper corner of the terracotta-colored-cloth cover. And the title is stamped in blue on the cover. The cover image is of luminous breasts above a partially removed black dress. The book is lovely to hold in your hand and contemplate what you will find when you open it.

And what you find are 37 nudes that Bravo made between 1939 until sometime in the 1990's by which time he was in his late 90's. There are essays by Carlos Fuentes and Ariadne Kimberly Huque in both Spanish and English. Unfortunately the essays are in such small type and so densely laid out on the page that they are difficult to read.

I have referenced the dates that the images were made to see if I see a progression or changes over time but actually some of the ones that were made in the 1970's and 1990's make me think of the ones made by Edward Weston while he was in Mexico in the 1920's and some of the ones he made in the 1939 and 1940's have made me think of the work of Flor Garduno. Bravo had begun photographing during the time Weston was in Mexico and while I don't have a reference, I'm sure they knew each other. But when Bravo makes a nude photograph in the Weston style in 1980, it seems very dated and tired. Garduno was Bravo's darkroom assistant for a few years. So I'm sure that there was cross pollination. In the nude images she has made, that seem to me to have a reference back to Bravo's 1940 images, the images are taken further and other layers of meaning are applied. Her nude images seem fresh.

While there are several outstanding nude images in the book like--Ariadne-1990's, Snows-1940, Doll House-1977, Good Reputation Sleeping-1939, Good Reputation Awakening-1939, The Black Cloth-1986, Black Mirror-1949, Temptation in the House of Antonio-1970, and Lucy-1986,--most of the rest of the images seem to be more about......well, more about just photographing a nude body in shadow, in vegetation, in an architectural setting. I don't get any meaning or significance beyond that.

The book was published in 2002, Bravo's 100th year and the year of his death. Maybe that was reason enough to gather his nude photographs into a book but I think it should have been more tightly edited.

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