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Graciela Iturbide, Quince años, 1985
The various works of Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide stand as impactful monuments in cultural photography. Iturbide’s work is characterized by a sense of intimacy with her subjects that transcends a stiff documentary style and conveys to the audience a wealth of emotion. Iturbide was welcomed into the communities she is best known for photographing, and through that inlet she has made an array of often-unseen indigenous lifestyles visible to the rest of the world.
In 1979, Iturbide embarked upon a journey to Oaxaca, Mexico to photograph the Juchitán culture. Francisco Toledo, a graphic artist and Juchitán native, had searched for a photographer to take pictures for the local Cultural Center and Iturbide gladly (and somewhat naively) accepted his offer.
Graciela Iturbide, Cárcel, 1985
Soon after entering into the Juchitán, Iturbide found herself in a world quite unique to the one she lived in. And heavy matriarchal influences within the community became a natural focus of her Juchitán project.
“In the Juchitán I spent a lot of time at the public market, hanging out with the women there, these big, strong, politicized, emancipated, wonderful women. I discovered this world of women and I made it my business to spend time with them and they gave me access to their daily world and to their traditions.”
Graciela Iturbide, May 2002
In the Juchitán, women were the ones in charge of family, religious activity and business, and their ubiquity and prowess is undeniable. Iturbide’s project captured both the dignity and warmth of her Juchitán heroines and the cycle of their lives—resulting in a work that is both insightful and entertaining.
In Cárcel, Iturbide encapsulates an interesting tension between typical male and female roles in western culture. The woman in the photograph, though physically smaller, is seated with a larger man resting his leg upon her lap. The hard, focused expression on the woman’s face suggests an element of her control over the softer male accessory.
Graciela Iturbide, Juchiteca con cerveza, 1984
Conversely in Juchiteca con cerveza, Iturbide’s work expresses the uninhibited enjoyment of life that marks the community of Juchitán women. The subject in this photograph conveys a sort of exuberant relaxation, only amplified by bold patterns in her clothing and a grand smile as if she were caught mid-laugh.
Further, the two women caught in the forgeound of Después del rapto seem to represent relationships among the Juchitán women. In this photograph, the two women hold each other in a warm embrace that may have even occurred in a dance. The way their festive headdresses blend with the leaves of a tall tree above them hints at a similar tall and strong stature that the Juchitán women were pictured to possess.
Graciela Iturbide, Después del rapto, 1986
Finally in Quince años, Iturbide captures a young woman of the Juchitán in her white quinceañera dress who appears to be representative of the coming of age. Unlike many of Iturbide’s other photographs, the young woman in this photo has a cold, straightforward gaze that casts the magnitude of her entrance into this strong group of women. The young boys seen peering through a back window this photo seem to represent the way all men in the Juchitán are portrayed: as outsiders. The older woman seated in the foreground of the image also seems to carry a powerful charge with her that is conveyed, albeit subtle, in the photograph.
Graciela Iturbide’s Juchitán provides a special insight into the culture and lives of the grand women of the Juchitán that will hold ground not only in the realm of women’s photography but also in the grander scheme of culture studies worldwide.
- - Nina Coyle