Manuel Alvarez Bravo 10.23.07
AUTHOR: MICOL HEBRON 09.15.07-10.31.07 Rose Gallery
As Susan Sontag noted in On Photography, a photograph has multiple functions: to create beauty, to possess, to document, to mask, to reveal. The forty gelatin silver and platinum palladium prints by Manuel Alvarez Bravo in this exhibition, shot predominantly in Mexico in the 1930s, catalog delicately decisive moments: an anamorphic congregation of snails on a white background; a twist of braided hair juxtaposed with a zigzagging wrought-iron fence; a mathematical grid of peanut halves. Most of the prints here are previously unseen (or unpublished—a well-made catalogue accompanies the exhibition), and each confirms the rigor of Bravo’s photographic eye and the force of an inner vision that is inexplicable and compelling. His images are poetic and transgressive, tranquil and unsettling. Bravo shares a formalism with his fellow modernists (Edward Weston, Alfred Stieglitz), social concerns with revolutionary peers (Tina Modotti), and a penchant for Surrealist fragmentation and disorientation (André Breton, Luis Buñuel). His images frame repetition and patterns in a way that converts the quotidian into an event, and in their technical and aesthetic virtuosity reconfirm his position in the modernist-photography firmament. It’s invigorating to spend time with art that is dedicated to skill and vision and unfettered by postmodern critiques that can be creatively debilitating. Likewise, though many modernist photographers are now neatly canonized—and therefore tamed—Bravo’s images communicate with immediacy across the decades.