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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Manuel Álvarez Bravo

Dates:  1902, 4 February - 2002
Born:  Mexico, Mexico City
Active:  Mexico
The first world-famous Mexican artistic photographer and the most important figure in 20th century Latin American photography. Married to photographer Lola Álvarez Bravo.

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Manuel Álvarez Bravo
Courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum (London, UK)

Manuel Alvarez Bravo was born into the world of revolutionary Mexico, and began to make photographs in the 1920's. By 1931 he was working on Soviet film-maker Sergei Eisenstein’s Que Riva Mexico, and he continued to work in films throughout the 1940's and 1950's only returning to still photography in the sixties. Alvarez Bravo’s photographs are frequently of single figures in uncomplicated settings; they are often lyrical and symbolic, suggesting an atmosphere of tension, violence or mystery. 
This biography is courtesy and copyright of the Victoria & Albert Museum and is included here with permission. 
Date last updated: 11 Nov 2011. 
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
If you find any errors please email us details so they can be corrected as soon as possible.

Biography provided by Focal Press 
Coming from a family of artists, Bravo was encouraged in the late 1920s by Tina Modotti and Edward Weston to pursue photography. After meeting André Breton in 1938, he used surrealism to combine fantasy and Mexican societal customs. In enigmatic tableaux that often expressed anguish and irony, Bravo psychologically explored the interaction of Catholicism, peasant life, death, sexuality, and dreams. Bravo worked as a cinematographer (1943–1959) and was co-founder (1959) and director of El Fondo Editorial de la Plastica Mexicana, publishers of fine arts books. 
(Author: Robert Hirsch - Independent scholar and writer) 
Michael Peres (Editor-in-Chief), 2007, Focal Encyclopedia of Photography, 4th edition, (Focal Press) [ISBN-10: 0240807405, ISBN-13: 978-0240807409] 
(Used with permission) 

Further research

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Manuel Alvarez Bravo 
Family history 
If you are related to this photographer and interested in tracking down your extended family we can place a note here for you to help. It is free and you would be amazed who gets in touch.

Exhibitions on this website

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Visual indexes

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Supplemental information


Manuel Álvarez Bravo

The Asociación Manuel Álvarez Bravo AC was founded in 2005 by Ms. Colette Urbajtel (the photographer´s widow) and two of his daughters, Genoveva and Aurelia Alvarez Urbajtel. Aurelia is coordinating the activities, consisting mainly, at present, in the inventory and catalogue of his personal archive of negatives.
For all reproduction rights contact:
Asociación Manuel Alvarez Bravo AC
Espíritu Santo 76 Barrio del Niño Jesús Del. Coyoacán CP 04330 México DF
Phone: 56 58 46 45
(July 24, 2008)

Manuel Álvarez Bravo
Mexican, 1902-2002

Manuel Álvarez Bravo purchased his first camera at age twenty. In 1925, he married Lola Álvarez Bravo and moved to Oaxaca. While in Oaxaca, he became acquainted with the European modernist photography of Albert Renger Patzsch, and Henri Cartier-Bresson as well as the work of Tina Modotti and Edward Weston through magazines. In 1927 he met Tina Modotti, who introduced him to members of the Mexican avant garde, including the muralist Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and José Clemente Orozco.
Álvarez Bravo is best known for the work that captures the radical social and political changes Mexico underwent in the 1920s-1930s. Bravo captured the complexity and contradictions of Mexican culture, photographing the street scenes, signs, vendors, and storefronts of Mexico City. He also traveled through the countryside documenting customs, festivities, and folklore. Such details as burial sites, walls, and roadside shrines often question perceptions of reality.
The provocative juxtapositions of objects in Alvarez Bravo's photographs caught the attention of European Surrealists. Álvarez Bravo often recounted that in 1938, he received a phone call made on behalf of André Breton, leader of the Surrealist movement in Paris. The caller asked the photographer if he would produce an image for the catalogue cover for a forthcoming Surrealist exhibition at Galería de Arte Méxicano. Alvarez Bravo quickly found the model, bandages, and star cacti that were to become his props for The Good Reputation Sleeping (1939). Many consider this image the artist's most enigmatic photograph, merging elements of sexuality, the unconscious, danger and healing.
In another well known photograph, Portrait of the Eternal (1935), Álvarez Bravo pursues the juxtaposition of the temporal and the eternal. The photograph features a woman with long, dark hair holding a small mirror to her face. An unseen source casts light on the right side of the woman's body, pulling her out of darkness—and back into the temporal world. The mirror, frequently a symbol for vanity, highlights age and the passage of time. Beauty and light are dramatically revealed as transitory elements that are also paradoxically eternal in their recurrence.
Manuel Álvarez Bravo’s work is in museum collections around the world, including The Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum and many others.
Sources: Getty Museum, Walker Art Center, The Museum of Modern Art.
[Contributed by the Etherton Gallery] 

Internet biographies

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Wikipedia has a biography of this photographer. Go to website
Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website
Grove Art Online ( has a biography of this artist. 
[NOTE: This is a subscription service and you will need to pay an annual fee to access the content.]
 Go to website
The International Photographers Hall of Fame has provided a biography. Go to website

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

• Auer, Michele & Michel 1985 Encyclopedie Internationale Des Photographes de 1839 a Nos Jours / Photographers Encylopaedia International 1839 to the present (Hermance, Editions Camera Obscura) 2 volumes [A classic reference work for biographical information on photographers.] 
• Beaton, Cecil & Buckland, Gail 1975 The Magic Eye: The Genius of Photography from 1839 to the Present Day (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown & Company) p.167 [Useful short biographies with personal asides and one or more example images.] 
• Capa, Cornell (ed.) 1984 The International Center of Photography: Encyclopedia of Photography (New York, Crown Publishers, Inc. - A Pound Press Book) p.26 
• Evans, Martin Marix (Executive ed.) 1995 Contemporary Photographers [Third Edition] (St. James Press - An International Thomson Publishing Company) [Expensive reference work but highly informative.] 
• Fernandez, Horacio (ed.) 2000 Fotografía Pública: Photography in Print 1919-1939 (Aldeasa) p.46 [This Spanish exhibition catalogue is one of the best sources for illustrations of photomontage and book design for the period between the two World Wars.] 
• International Center of Photography 1999 Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection (New York: A Bulfinch Press Book) p.207 [Includes a well written short biography on Manuel Álvarez Bravo with example plate(s) earlier in book.] 
• Lenman, Robin (ed.) 2005 The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford: Oxford University Press)  [Includes a short biography on Manuel Álvarez Bravo.] 
• Witkin, Lee D. and Barbara London 1979 The Photograph Collector’s Guide (London: Secker and Warburg) p.69 [Long out of print but an essential reference work - the good news is that a new edition is in preparation.] 

Useful printed stuff

If there is an analysis of a single photograph or a useful self portrait I will highlight it here.

• Gruber, Renate and L. Fritz Gruber 1982 The Imaginary Photo Museum (New York: Harmony Books) p.242 
• Naef, Weston 1995 The J. Paul Getty Museum - Handbook of the Photographic Collection (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum) p.189 
• Naef, Weston 2004 Photographers of Genius at the Getty (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum) [For this photographer there is a description and three sample photographs from the Getty collection. p.140-143] 
• Szarkowski, John 1973 Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art (New York: The Museum of Modern Art) p.132 [Analyzes a single photograph by Manuel Álvarez Bravo.] 


Photographic collections are a useful means of examining large numbers of photographs by a single photographer on-line. 

In the 1990 survey of 535 American photographic collections Manuel Álvarez Bravo was represented in 85 of the collections. Source: Andrew H. Eskind & Greg Drake (eds.) 1990 Index to American Photographic Collections [Second Enlarged Edition] (Boston, Massachusetts: G.K. Hall & Co.) 


The wit and wisdom.

"The word ‘art‘ is very slippery. It really has no importance in relation to one‘s work. I work for the pleasure, for the pleasure of the work, and everything else is a matter for the critics."
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