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Indepth Arts News:

"Mexico: From Empire to Revolution. A Two-Part Exhibition Features Rare Photographs of Mexican History"
2000-10-21 until 2001-01-21
J. Paul Getty Center

Mexico: From Empire to Revolution is a two-part Getty Research Institute exhibition opening October 21, 2000. The exhibition includes over 250 photographs and albums produced between the 1850s and the 1920s depicting Mexican history and culture. With images ranging from ancient Mayan ruins and the remote countryside to scenes of Maximilian's execution and the violent 1910 revolution, the exhibition explores how early photographers captured not only momentous political struggles but also the intimate details of everyday life.

Part I runs October 21, 2000, through January 21, 2001, and Part II runs from February 24 through May 20, 2001. Both will be presented at the Getty Research Institute at the Getty Center. Part I begins in the 1850s and focuses on the French intervention, Maximilian's short-lived empire between 1864-1867, and the early documentation of pre-Hispanic ruins during the second half of the 19th century. Part II begins in the 1870s and traces the emergence of Mexico as a modern nation over the next 50 years, concluding with the extraordinary upheaval caused by the 1910 revolution that submerged the country in civil war for more than 10 years. Included in this Part are images from this period of Francisco Madero, Emiliano Zapata, and Pancho Villa.

From Empire to Revolution explores Mexico's legacy of empires, intervention, and revolution. It also looks at the importance of photographs as both historical documents and instruments used to shape public perception of the events of the day and encourage tourism and economic investment. Drawn from the Getty Research Institute's collection, with an additional loan from the J. Paul Getty Museum, the exhibition includes carte-de-visites, cabinet cards, commemorative albums, postcards, and documentary and press photographs that show the many uses for these early images. Most were shot by non-Mexican photographers whose viewpoint as foreigners shaped both their own and their viewers' understanding of people, events, and places. Often working with unwieldy equipment under extreme conditions, they left behind an extraordinary visual legacy that provides a portrait of daily life, a chronicle of political events, and a record of the transformation of cities and countryside. Together, these works create a panoramic, if selective, vision of Mexico.

Part I includes the work of French photographer Désiré Charnay who arrived in Mexico City in 1857 to photograph ruins, but soon found himself in the midst of the French occupation. Charnay and fellow Frenchman François Aubert--court photographer for Maximilian--captured images of the capital and the empire's dramatic rise and fall, including scenes of the Benito Juárez victory and Aubert's photographs of Maximilian's corpse. Part I also highlights architectural photographs taken between the 1860s and 1880s of Zapotec and Mixtec ruins in Oaxaca and Toltec and Mayan ruins in the Yucatán. Works by Charnay and other photographers including Teobert Maler, Augustus le Plongeon, and Lord Alfred Percival Maudslay are represented.

Part II includes photographs by Frenchman Abel Briquet who, along with William Henry Jackson, was commissioned to document the new railways at the start of Porfirio Diaz's long presidency. Briquet and other photographers, including Charles Burlingame Waite, also shot natural portraits of Mexican life and images depicting the character and growth of cities and the countryside through the turn of the century. Guillermo Kahlo's photographs provide extraordinary documentation of colonial churches throughout Mexico. Part II also focuses on the period between 1910 and 1915 when the tensions and disparities of industrialization helped spark the Mexican Revolution. Photographers including Agustin Victor Casasola, Manuel Rámos, Antonio Garduño, Hugo Brehme, and W.H. Horne all created images that were often used to shape political perception and public opinion in Mexico and the United States.

Running concurrently with the Research Institute's Mexico show is Voyages and Visions: Early Photographs from the Wilson Family Collection at the J. Paul Getty Museum (October 24, 2000, through February 18, 2001). Drawn from the prestigious Wilson Family Collection, Voyages and Visions features photographs from the emergence of this new medium in 1839 through the golden age of the 1850s--a particularly innovative period in photography's early history. As methods were refined and materials improved, photographers ventured further in their attempt to document the world.

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