Three Latin American Photography Pioneers You Need to Know About

Today, if we have a cell phone, we can portray people and document both our lives and what happens before our eyes. However, not so long ago, what today seems so natural to us, was something innovative and surprising. Today we celebrate three women who lived during that moment in our history; they were pioneers of photography in Latin America, and to be so, they had to challenge the norms and customs of their time. This was the only way they were able to develop as photojournalists and artistic photographers, activities that were not performed by women at that time. They are Lola Alvarez Bravo from Mexico, Alicia “Chichi” Benavides from Peru and Sara Facio, from Argentina.

Dolores Martínez de Anda, better known as Lola Álvarez Bravo, was born in Jalisco, Mexico in 1907 and became one of the most important photographers in her country. In 1925 a friend of her brother and neighbor, the renowned photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo, became her husband.  Lola began her career in photography as her husband’s assistant and it was only when he became ill that Lola finally ventured into the world of photography, having to complete a job for her husband for a magazine. In 1934, when they separated, she supported her seven year old son by working as a photographer; she worked as a fine art photographer, commercial photographer, gallery curator and teacher. In 1944 she had her first solo exhibition at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. She also became director of photography at the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes and in 1953 became the first photographer to exhibit her work at the Salón de la Plástica Mexicana.

Lola Álvarez Bravo made an important contribution to the history of photography. Her portraits of notable personalities and unknown people, as well as the scenes of everyday life that she photographed with a modern and humane perspective, document an important stage in the history of her country. Lola and Manuel Álvarez Bravo were part of the cultural scene of their time, along with other important personalities such as Daniel Alfaro Siqueiros, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, María Izquierdo and Rufino Tamayo. Lola developed a close relationship with María Izquierdo and Frida Kahlo. She was the first person to exhibit Frida Kahlo’s work, and in the 1940s she became famous precisely for her portraits of Frida Kahlo. The Center for Creative Photography at the University of Tucson acquired the complete archive of her work in 1996. In particular, those she referred to as “my photos, my art” and many others that they chose together.

Alicia “Chichi” Benavides, born in Arequipa, Peru, is considered the first female photojournalist in Peru. Her relationship with the camera began when she was already the mother of five children, divorced and 33 years old. It was then that a friend invited her to his laboratory to develop some pictures she had taken and she began a relationship with photography that she has described as magical. Three months after she picked up a camera for the first time, she began working as a photographer for the cultural page of magazine “Oiga”.  This was in the 1970s, when the rest of photographers were men. Later, she worked for Caretas magazine. During her career she portrayed writers such as Mario Vargas Llosa, Julio Cortázar and Julio Ramón Ribeyro; poet Blanca Varela, painter Fernando de Szyszlo, sculptor Lika Mutal, historian Jorge Basadre, as well as presidents, politicians, singers and other prominent personalities. Like Lola Alvarez Bravo, Chichi Benavides documented the history of her country as it unfolded before her eyes. She later worked for the “Caretas” magazine and collaborated with national and international magazines such as “Newsweek” and “The Washington Post”.  In addition, she was assistant to Swiss photographer Fredo Meyer-Henn in Bern, Switzerland, was awarded a scholarship by UNESCO and took photography courses at the Antonio Gaudi Institute and at the Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru, where she later taught for many years.  She has always considered herself more of a photojournalist than an artist, although her photographs speak for themselves.

Sara Facio was born in San Isidro, Argentina, in 1932. She graduated from the Prilidiano Pueyrredón School of Fine Arts. In 1953 she became a professor at the School of Fine Arts. Later she received a scholarship from the French government to study visual arts and made trips to England, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Austria, to deepen her knowledge. She was assistant to Anne Marie Heinrich. She is a great photographer, photo curator and journalist. In 1960 she founded, together with Alicia D’Amico, a studio through which they collaborated with newspapers and magazines in Europe and America. She also founded, together with the Guatemalan María Cristina Orive, a photographic publishing house, exclusively dedicated to publishing photographs. Some of her books are considered by curators in the United Kingdom and Spain as some of the most important in the history of photography. As a photographer she has received numerous prizes and has had solo exhibitions in Europe, Asia and America. Her portraits of the great writers of the Boom of the 60’s, of prominent women in the cultural sphere and her visual chronicles of historical moments, such as Perón’s funeral, and her personal and unique look at social issues such as the Mental Hospices of Buenos Aires, are very impressive. In 2011, Sara Facio was declared Illustrious Citizen of the City of Buenos Aires. Her multifaceted life and accomplishments are many and she has been the recipient of numerous awards and recognitions. Her books and photos are in the National Library in Paris, the Washington Congress and the Sao Paulo Museum of Modern Art. In addition, as an artist, her photographs are part of important private collections, as well as the permanent collections of the National Museum of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires, the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid and the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MOMA), among others.

If these three women have inspired you, you want to deepen your knowledge of photography and are interested in entering artists’ studios through original films and audio interviews, and explore how photography has been used throughout its 180-year history, it might be interesting to take the Museum of Modern Art’s online course Seeing Through Photographs. Learn more about this course by clicking HERE. This course is taught in English, with subtitles in Spanish, Portuguese and other languages. If you would like a more comprehensive online program, including this course and others, you could explore the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) Specialty Program: Modern and Contemporary Art and Design by clicking HERE. This course is also taught in English, with subtitles in Spanish, Portuguese and other languages. It is important to explore those subjects that fill us with inspiration and feed our curiosity, because this will contribute to our development and happiness. Continuous learning will always enrich our lives. 😊 🌈 💚

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