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5 Fast Facts: Graciela Iturbide

Blog Category:  5 Fast Facts
A black-and-white photograph shows the back of a woman as she crests a rocky path above a vast desert landscape beneath an expansive sky. Her traditional, ethnic full skirt, long-sleeved blouse, and long, straight, dark hair contrasts with the modern portable stereo she carries.

One of the most influential contemporary photographers of Latin America, Graciela Iturbide (b. 1942) has produced majestic and powerful images of her native Mexico for the past 50 years. Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico is the artist’s most extensive U.S. exhibition in more than two decades, comprising 140 black-and-white prints that reveal the artist’s own journey to understand her homeland and the world.

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Iturbide, revealing how her process and pictures shed new light on other photographs on view in the museum’s collection.

A black and white portrait of a light skinned woman, cropped from the chest up. She wears a collared shirt accented with a boxed stripe design. She looks directly at the camera; painted lines, one dotted, run across the bridge of her nose, and small triangles are painted on her cheeks.
Graciela Iturbide, Autorretrato como Seri (Self-Portrait as Seri), Sonoran Desert, 1979; Gelatin silver print, 6 ¾ x 6 ¾ in.; Courtesy of the artist; © Graciela Iturbide; Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

1. Picturing Self

While Iturbide typically photographs others, she occasionally captures her own likeness. Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico includes four autorretratos, or self-portraits, that reveal and conceal the artist. Consider how her contemporaries Kirsten Justesen (b. 1943), Cindy Sherman (b. 1954), and Gillian Wearing (b. 1963) obfuscate their faces to redefine traditions of self-portraiture.

2. Getting to Know You

Iturbide immerses herself in the communities she photographs to gain trust and respect. She spends extended time on location, participates in cultural traditions, and even works alongside her subjects. Similarly, Esther Bubley (1921—1998) and Nikki S. Lee (b. 1970) embedded themselves in rural America for their own respective series—Ladies’ Home Journal’s “How America Lives” (1948—1960) and The Ohio Project (1999).

3. Recording Tradition

Iturbide’s extensive catalogue of images of the Seri, Zapotec, and Mixteca peoples show her deep respect for and desire to record indigenous Mexican cultures. This work extends a tradition practiced by Lola Álvarez Bravo (1907—1993), who simultaneously captured distinctive Mexican customs and universal human emotions.

4. Investigating Nature

Iturbide observes and pictures aspects of the natural world that typically go unseen—like a bird’s skeleton or a cactus receiving IV fluids. Similarly, Maggie Foskett (1919—2014) created cliché verres to enlarge and make transparent nature’s underlying structures. Amy Lamb (b. 1944) employs carefully controlled studio conditions, unparalleled patience, and a watchful eye to capture the fleeting moment flowers bloom or seedpods burst.

5. Celebrating Authenticity

Juchitán’s egalitarian culture embraces a third gender known as muxes, or individuals assigned male at birth who dress and behave as women. Iturbide photographed a muxe named Magnolia at her request. South African artist and visual activist Zanele Muholi (b. 1972) also pictures individuals from the LGBTQIA+ community in her native country.

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