PHOTOBOOK REVIEWS, INTERVIEWS AND WRITE-UPS
ALONG WITH THE LATEST PHOTO-EYE NEWS

Social Media

Book Review: Colette Urbajtel


Book Review Colette Urbajtel By Ralph Colette Urbajtel. Reviewed by Christopher J Johnson Urbajtel is a unique photographer with a sharp wit, unmistakably all her own, that is easy to miss in her photographs, which tend to present subtlety first, and humor second.

Colette Urbajtel. By Colette Urbajtel 
RM/Archivo Manuel Álvarez Bravo, 2016.
 
Colette Urbajtel
Reviewed by Christopher J Johnson

Colette Urbajtel.
Photographs by Colette Urbajtel.
RM/Archivo Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Madrid, Spain, 2016. 92 pp., 52 color illustrations.

Colette Urbajtel, the French economist student who became the third wife of Manuel Alvarez Bravo and a Mexican photographer ‘in her own right,’ as the character-subsuming saying goes, is, I think, not served by the consorting of her name into Bravo’s.

Urbajtel is a unique photographer with a sharp wit, unmistakably all her own, that is easy to miss in her photographs, which tend to present subtlety first, and humor second.

Her photographs are something like the illustrations in Highlights Magazine where one has to look and look to see all the hidden objects within the picture; her wit is what I admire most about her photographs, but to say that all of her work is humorous would be misleading.

Colette Urbajtel. By Colette Urbajtel RM/Archivo Manuel Álvarez Bravo, 2016.

Perhaps she has two varieties of photographs, two subjects, which are more pervasive than her humor: still life and a sort of cultural daily life. Her still lifes can be humorous or not, but they tend to be experiments in prospective, a tchotchke is photographed among the leaves of a plant or within a shop window with laces and a price tag to give a sense of its relative size; something always betrays both the scale and, in conjunction to scale, the preciousness of the object photographed.

Colette Urbajtel. By Colette Urbajtel RM/Archivo Manuel Álvarez Bravo, 2016.

Her daily life photographs are a collection of cultural events, street photographs, and a sort of typography of murals, shop window designs and, as part of these works, surfaces and reflections.

Within her various subjects she further favors children, statuary and animals, but doesn’t exclusively focus on any of them; however, she is constantly bringing several of her themes into a single picture: daily life, children, animals and humor frequently inhabit her photographs harmoniously side by side, but she can also give us just one of these subjects, while restricting her others, to great effect.

Colette Urbajtel. By Colette Urbajtel RM/Archivo Manuel Álvarez Bravo, 2016.

The tonal quality of her photographs strengthens her work; images are diffuse with light, reminding one (as if environment and subject matter were not enough) that these pictures come from an equatorial place where the sun is always overhead; there is something of the late morning or early afternoon in almost all of her work — a strange clarity such as looking into an empty fish bowl in which the water has just been changed; even her photographs that contain movement have this dead-still, noon-like transparency.

Colette Urbajtel. By Colette Urbajtel RM/Archivo Manuel Álvarez Bravo, 2016.

Urbajtel’s work is amplified by a wonderfully brief and to-the-point pairing of two artist statements (provided in Spanish, English and French); one from 1970 and the other from 2015. In both, the sharpness of her mind is staggering and the clarity of her aim as a photographer appears unwavering in the 45-year gap between them. Speaking of the femininity of photography she says, “Consider, among its endlessly varied paraphernalia, the hollow cameras, the rounded lenses, the transparent and reflecting glass, the film that captures first a latent image. The work in the darkroom,” she goes on to say, “is a typically female process: first developing and then enlarging, like life itself unfolding.” The simple gracefulness of this statement aside, Urbajtel, tells us that photography is an art that lends itself to the female artist; rather than a process of willful creation, she uses the example of illustration; it is an attempt to capture and develop the world that is. There is no crashing in or forcing along, beauty is present and plentiful and only needs to be enveloped and nurtured; something photography is, of course, particularly adept at doing.

Colette Urbajtel. By Colette Urbajtel RM/Archivo Manuel Álvarez Bravo, 2016.

Colette Urbajtel is a much-needed book as it examines in-depth this largely under-represented photographer and provides an examination of work and, though brief, thought. Hopefully, we’ll see her take a more prominent place in the history of Mexican photography and get a few more publications dedicated to her wonderfully rich work. — Christopher J Johnson

Purchase Book

CHRISTOPHER J. JOHNSON lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is a resident writer for the Meow Wolf art collective. His first book of poetry, &luckier, has been released by the University of Colorado. He is Manager of photo-eye’s Book Division.

Read More Book Reviews

No comments:

Post a Comment