5 Fast Facts: Lola Álvarez Bravo

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Lola Álvarez Bravo (1907–1993), whose work is on view in NMWA’s collection galleries.

1. Artful Ambition

As a photographer, Álvarez Bravo traveled throughout Mexico documenting scenes of everyday life, but her creative contributions went beyond her artistic output. Her other roles included art teacher, curator film director, and gallery owner.

2. Six Degrees

Álvarez Bravo and Graciela Iturbide (b. 1942), who represent two generations of Mexican photographers, have a mutual acquaintance. In 1925, Álvarez Bravo married photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo, who would become Iturbide’s teacher and mentor in 1970. Until their separation in 1934, Álvarez Bravo learned from and assisted Manuel, while developing her own style.

Lola Álvarez Bravo, De Generación en Generación, ca. 1950; Gelatin silver print, 18 3/4 x 14 in.; NMWA, Gift of the artist; © 1995 Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona Foundation

3. BFFs

On November 25, 1991, the exhibition Lola Álvarez Bravo: Portraits of Frida Kahlo opened at NMWA. Organized by The Society of Friends of the Mexican Culture, the exhibition included 25 photographs Álvarez Bravo took of her close friend and fellow artist Frida Kahlo (1907–1954).

4. Art Appreciation

Álvarez Bravo received recognition for her work throughout her career and after her death, including solo and group exhibitions, awards, and, most recently, a Google Doodle in honor of her 117th birthday on April 3, 2020.

5. StrongHer

One of Mexico’s first women photographers, Álvarez Bravo developed a thick skin in the male-dominated industry. As she once said, “I was the only woman fooling around with a camera on the streets and the reporters laughed at me. So I became a fighter.”

—Ashley W. Harris is the associate educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.


Artist Friendships: Lola Álvarez Bravo and Frida Kahlo

Inspired by the special exhibition New Ground: The Southwest of Maria Martinez and Laura Gilpin, we are celebrating famous artist friendships. Did you know that Lola Álvarez Bravo (1903–1993) and Frida Kahlo (1907–1954) became friends through the same social circles in Mexico?

Nationalist Pride

One of Mexico’s first women photographers, Lola Álvarez Bravo’s works are celebrated for documenting daily life in post-revolutionary Mexico. Álvarez Bravo said, “If my photographs have any value, it’s because they show a Mexico that no longer exists.” Her work in NMWA’s collection, De generación en generación (1950), expresses a strong sense of Mexican nationalist pride combined with universal human emotions.

Frida Kahlo is renowned for her poignant, often shocking, self-portraits. Although she is referred to as a Surrealist, Kahlo maintained, “I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.” Remembered for her tragic life story and her turbulent marriage to famed muralist Diego Rivera, Kahlo was foremost a fierce painter and political activist. Her work in NMWA’s collection, Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky (1937), is one of Kahlo’s softer self-portraits, meant to commemorate her brief affair with the Russian revolutionary Trotsky.

Amigas for Life

Álvarez Bravo started taking her own photographs after serving as an assistant to her husband, photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo. After their divorce, she began her own successful, independent career. It was also through her husband that she met Kahlo. Both artists were involved in the same social circles in Mexico and shared similar nationalistic outlooks that influenced their respective artistic practices.

Álvarez Bravo’s most well-known photos featuring Kahlo are often praised for their honesty and intimacy. Kahlo even fastened one of these portraits to the front of her diary, indicating the respect that she had for the photographer. In addition to capturing numerous portraits of Kahlo, Álvarez Bravo also directed a film starring the painter, but it was never completed because of Kahlo’s declining health. Álvarez Bravo hosted Kahlo’s first solo exhibition in Mexico at her own gallery, shortly before Kahlo’s untimely death.

Learn about the friendship between potter Maria Martinez (ca. 1887–1980) and photographer Laura Gilpin (1891–1979), whose works are on view in New Ground through May 14, 2017.

—Madeline Barnes is the spring 2017 digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

From the Vault: Lola Alvarez Bravo

De Generación en Generación, ca 1950. Gelatin silver print. 9 x 6 1/8 inches. Gift of the artist.

Lola Alvarez Bravo was a pioneer of the photography movement and perhaps the first professional Mexican woman photographer. She shattered stereotypes by pursuing her dream from behind a camera lens and was associated with and photographed the most famous artists of her day, such as Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, Maria Izquierdo, Alfaro Siquieros, and Frida Kahlo. Bravo was a key figure in the cultural renaissance that followed the Mexican Revolution, becoming a positive role model for women artists and gaining international attention for her intimate portraits of Frida Kahlo.

Dolores Martinez de Anda was born in the small city of Lagos de Moreno in Jalisco, Mexico, in 1907 to a wealthy family. Orphaned at a young age, she moved to Mexico City to live with her half brother and met their neighbor, Manuel Alvarez Bravo. In 1925, Lola married Manuel and moved to Oaxaca where Manuel pursued a career in photography and Lola became his assistant. Manuel taught her about photography and she began to capture her own imagery. The couple returned to Mexico City in 1926 before the birth of their son. Heavily influenced by their new friend Edward Westin and his mistress Tina Modotti, an amateur photographer, Bravo was inspired to pursue photography professionally. In 1931, Manuel and Lola won first and second prizes, respectively, at the Exhibición Nacional de la Pintura y la Fotografía, a significant accomplishment for both.

In 1934, Lola separated from her husband, maintaining her married name and began a solo career spanning more than fifty years. She received her first commission in 1936 photographing the choir stalls of a former church, which subsequently led to magazine work with El Maestro Rural, Hoy, and Rotofoto. Bravo dove into photojournalism, portraiture, as well as photomontage, focusing on the cultural life and social problems of Mexico. She moved into an apartment in Mexico City with painter Maria Izquierdo, who led her into many budding artistic circles. In 1944, Bravo held her first solo exhibition at Mexico City’s Palace of Fine Arts. She also taught photography at the esteemed Academía de San Carlos. From 1951 to 1958, Bravo directed her own gallery in Mexico City and in 1953 organized Frida Kahlo’s only solo exhibition in Mexico during Kahlo’s lifetime. Lola had a major retrospective in 1992 in Mexico City, but had stopped making work by then due to failing eyesight. Bravo died in 1993, but her body of work and defiance of social norms will never be forgotten.

Ali Printz is currently an intern in the Library and Research Center at NMWA