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Suspended between the sky and the earth, the here and the elsewhere, the charred lands and the sidewalks or the clouds shrouded by birds, Graciela Iturbide’s keen and piercing eye has caught the strangeness of the world. This eye, on the lookout for the incongruous, for the poetry lurking in the ordinary, has made the boundaries of documentary photography waver, inflecting it towards the world of chimeras, towards a magical and visionary realism. 

A major figure in Latin American photography, trained in the 1970s by Manuel Àlvarez Bravo, winner of the Hasselblad Prize in 2008, the Mexican photographer is the subject of a vast retrospective at the Fondation Cartier, bringing together more than 200 images, from “iconic” works to the most recent photographs, including a series in color (produced especially for the exhibition) that stands out in her black and white work, which is caught up in “shapes, lights and shadows.” 

“I looked for the surprise in the ordinary, an ordinary that I could have found anywhere else,” explains the woman who gave extra soul to Those who live in the sand (Los que viven en la arena, a series made in 1978 in the Seri community, among the Indians of the Sonora desert), but also to the Cholos, deaf-mute Chicanos of the western United States (White Fence Gang, 1986-1989), and who immortalized the women of Juchitán, heirs of the Zapotec culture, in the Oxaca valley (Mexico).

The surprise, the unusual, will thus be her spur, her compass, during all her peregrinations, in Mexico but also in Germany, Spain, Ecuador, Japan, the United States, India, Madagascar, Argentina, Peru, Panama – between the 1970s and the 1990s. 

“Photography is a ritual for me. To leave with my camera, to observe, to seize the most mythical part of the man, then to penetrate in the darkness, to develop, to choose the symbolic,” declares Graciela Iturbide. One also understands the strange power emanating from her photographs, which, by their symbolic scope, their “mythical” aura and their “disquieting strangeness,” far surpass documentary photography. Her famous Nuestra Señora de las Iguanas, crowned with (living) iguanas, has the timeless gaze and the bearing of a queen; as does her young girl in Zapotec costume, and all the indigenous women and men she has immortalized: hieratic silhouettes isolated in the arid scenery of the great desert plains or photographed in tight framing, they have this strange absent presence of the living magnified into legendary beings…

A timelessness even more perceptible in the landscapes devoid of any human presence and the unusual still lifes, bordering on abstraction, created over the last three decades: skies blackened with birds, fields of faded sunflowers, stumps of trees, brambles invading the sands, roped rocks or in rags… so many ghosts or memento mori: death is lurking in the arid and eminently symbolic lands of Graciela Iturbide… 

Exhibition Graciela Iturbide – Heliotropo 37

Until May 29th

Fondation Cartier – Paris –

Stéphanie Dulout