|Juchitan de las Mujeres, by Graviela Iturbide. |
Published by RM/Editorial Calamus, 2009.
Reviewed by Faye Robson
Graciela Iturbide Juchitan de las Mujeres
Photographs by Graciela Iturbide. Text by Mario Bellatin, Elena Poniatowska.
RM/Editorial Calamus, 2009. Hardbound. 104 pp., 75 tritone illustrations, 8-1/2x14-3/4".
In 1979, Graciela Iturbide was just one of a group of artists invited by Juchitán-native Francisco Toledo to create work in his hometown in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. The town of Juchitán de Zaragoza, the district to which it belongs, and the unique culture of its inhabitants form the subject matter of Juchitán de las Mujeres (a title which translates, awkwardly, as 'Juchitán of Women'). However, the scope of this body of work, made over a period of ten years, and of Iturbide's vision, suggest that the photographer somewhat exceeded her original brief.
Indeed, this work, initially intended for an exhibition Toledo planned at the Juchitán Casa de Cultura, exceeds many of the expectations one might have for a geographically-anchored project, which takes a visually and ideologically distinct culture as its subject. While there are elements of the work that seem straightforwardly anthropological - Iturbide's interest in dress, for example, or the recurring presence of particular totemic animals and animal icons - the photographs in which these emblems appear can be read equally as investigations in personality, identity and, more generally, presence. In one image, a girl, swathed in fabric, walks along the street with a group of similarly-clad women. She is recognisably part of a group, recognisably dressed for an occasion, but the image, dominated by her frame-filling figure and the billowing, patterned cloth that surrounds her, speaks as powerfully of how it feels to be this person, ceremonial yet exhilarated, as of how it looks.
There are moments of vulnerability and tenderness also. Indeed, solitary and introspective moments are expressed in a more conventional language, as in a photograph showing a young girl alone in bed surrounded by petals according to tradition and apparently anticipating her bridegroom, with eyes averted and the camera apparently a detached 'observer.' However, for the most part, this is a collection that identifies with its boisterous subject and forces the viewer to attempt the same feat.—Faye Robson
Faye Robson is an editor of illustrated books, currently based in London, UK. She has worked on photobooks for publishers including Aperture Foundation, New York and Phaidon Press, London.