Tag Archives: Henri Cartier-Bresson

Looking for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo: Garden at Casa Azul

Casa Azul, home of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in Coyoacan, Mexico City, has a stunning garden. Once the home of Frida’s father and mother, and where she was born in 1907, Rivera bought the property after the family amassed huge debt paying for years of treatment after the bus accident that severely handicapped Frida at age eighteen.

MexCityPeacocks_StrLife-44 The garden is surrounded by intense blue walls, which F & D painted after they moved in. It was expanded when Leon Trotsky moved into the complex for security reasons. He later moved to another house in the neighborhood where he was assassinated by Stalin‘s henchmen in post-revolutionary Soviet Union.MexCityPeacocks_StrLife-34

The garden is a lush expanse of tropical plants, pre-Columbian sculpture, small pools, a miniature pyramid that is a sometimes altar and walking paths.  As you exit the house, built of volcanic stone, after the self-guided tour, you come down a staircase where some pause overlooking a pool lined in tiles painted with frogs.

MexCityPeacocks_StrLife-15 MexCityPeacocks_StrLife-17 MexCityPeacocks_StrLife-19Frida called Diego Frog and you see this both here at Casa Azul and at the Dolores Olmedo Patiño Museum in Xochimilco. Dolores was his patron and preserved the contents of Casa Azul for posterity through her foundation. Frida’s ashes are in the pre-Columbian frog urn on her bedroom dresser.

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There are benches for sitting under the shade and the calm of a fountain. Perfect for reflecting on their lives together and the iconic image of feminism that she has become. I often refer to her as our contemporary Virgin of Guadalupe because Frida Kahlo carries that reverence among art lovers and intellectuals that makes her almost god-like.

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I’ve organized the art history tour Looking for Friday Kahlo and Diego Rivera for the past two years and I’ve been to the house no less than six or eight times during this period.

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It is always enthralling, but this time I decided to put myself in the garden, find a backdrop that I liked and wait for photographs, a la Henri Cartier-Bresson.

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I recall Rivera who went to Europe for fourteen years to study the great masters, copying them, refining classical painting techniques, experimenting with Cubism and Impressionism before developing his own remarkable style after returning to Mexico in 1921.

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So, I have ordered the book Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Mind’s Eye, so I can understand the philosophy behind his picture-taking and practice his style.

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Frida Kahlo lived most of her short life in pain.  She died at age 47 in 1954. Rivera died in 1957.  He was twenty-two years older that her. The exhibition space is devoted to indigenous dresses she wore to hide her deformities, polio which she contracted at age eight and then the accident that necessitated living her life in a spinal brace with regular surgeries and hospitalization for traction.

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She was never able to conceive a child and this was a focus of her later painting which captures this life tragedy.

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If you are interested in organizing a small group to explore the Mexican Muralists and the life of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera accompanied by a knowledgeable art historian, please contact me. We are organizing this art history program for fall/winter 2015-2016.

 

Photography: Cartier-Bresson Exhibition in Mexico City

The Mexico City exhibition featuring 398 pieces by French photographer-filmmaker Henri Cartier-Bresson closes May 17, 2015 at Palacio Bellas Artes. Please don’t miss it. Considered the founder of photojournalism, this is the first major retrospective since his death in 2004.

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An hour is not long enough to absorb the emotional intensity of Cartier-Bresson’s work. If you love political history, photojournalism, the decades leading up to World War II and the beginning of photography as an important artistic and cultural vehicle for storytelling, you will love this exhibition. I needed more than two hours to do it justice.

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It represents Cartier-Bresson’s interest in painting, drawing, photography and filmmaking. It is an in-depth view of pre and post-World War Europe, of poverty and racism, of what happens on the street among the people. There are also amazing portraits of notables who he was commissioned to photograph.

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Oaxaca Day of the Dead Photography Workshop, October 2015

Chiapas Festivals and Faces Photography Workshop, January 2016

For example, the exhibit features photographs taken during the coronation of King George II of England. But Cartier-Bresson concentrates on the expressions of people in the crowd and not the regal procession. Some are using raised mirrors to watch the parade, and to do so, they must turn their backs to the King.

 

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Cartier-Bresson uses this as a metaphor for how the people must turn away from monarchy and embrace a republican government.

Program Notes: Impressions of Africa. “He took little interest in local customs or ritual feasts, as he did not want to get drawn into “Exoticism” or what he called “detestable local colour.”  In a style very much influenced by the European New Vision (high angle shots, geometrical compositions, repeating motifs) he tended to photograph subjects like children playing in the street, dockers at work or the effort of rowers in a boat: in other words, the rhythm of African life.

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Aligned with the intellectuals and artists of the time, he was a powerful voice in support of Communism, active in the Spanish Civil War and the French Resistance.

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As a contemporary of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Cartier-Bresson came to Mexico to photograph, and many of the images shown capture the poor and disenfranchised, including children and prostitutes.

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As I moved through the exhibition, I learned more about photography by seeing this work. Cartier-Bresson shunned fiestas and processions, the formalities of organized life. He concentrated on what was messy and spontaneous.

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His technique was to find a backdrop with texture and interest that he liked and then wait for people to pass through the space.

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As we walked from Palacio Bellas Artes to see the Diego Rivera mural Dream of a Sunday Afternoon on the Alameda, I stopped to take photos of young men practicing their skateboard moves a la Henri Cartier-Bresson — perhaps — and a man sitting on a steel post mid-sidewalk, waiting, surrounded by passersby who paid no attention.

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The Decisive Moment, an essay by Cartier-Bresson, describes his philosophical approach to photography and is considered a foundation for all photographers.

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