Tag Archives: Tate Modern

“Sonora Desert” by Graciela Iturbide

On a leisurely stroll in the Tate Modern, my attention was caught by a gelatin silver print belonging to Graciela Iturbide as part of a series of 5 portraits taken in the Sonora desert, Mexico.

It is a black and white portrait of an indigenous young woman that exudes strength and pride. She does not make a direct gaze with the viewer, instead focusing slightly above her and towards the left.  This produces an air of mystery as you are left to choose whether it is her pride that prevents a direct gaze or that there was something a bit more interesting than Iturbide herself at the time.

The protagonist wears a button down shirt with two-toned piping running down from her shoulders towards her breasts and parallel to the buttons.  The top button of the shirt is left unopened whilst the second one remains closed with a metal pin.  This may give clues about the socioeconomic status of the individual.  She wears a simple bead necklace and her long straight hair run down predominantly on her left shoulder.

The image was taken from below the woman, elongating her torso and neck.  By positioning in such manner, Iturbide has given her strength, power, confidence and pride.  She has also exaggerated her chin and glorified her indigenous bone structure and strengthened the ethnic identity.  The shallow depth of field is focused on her skin allowing the viewer to see details such as her pores.  There is no visible background apart from the dark cloudless sky. These elements make the protagonist the pure focus of this image and finds immense strength through its effortless simplicity.

The lighting is harsh on her face, producing shadows which adds onto “this is me and I am not going to change myself for flattery” feeling.  The time of the day that this may have been taken could be midday as demonstrated by the harsh lighting.  It is likely that fill-in flash was also used to allow more details of the skin to be seen and darkened the sky to add onto the drama of the shot.

This black framed with large white mounting print is flanked either side by more portraits from the same series that feature individuals from Sonora Desert from the same year.  These too have been taken with almost none to very simple backgrounds and angled to give power to those who are featured. They all appear to have a strong sense of identity and make an impact through its simplicity and focus.  The frame and its wide mounting add onto the monochromatic images.  The print could have easily drowned in such heavy white mounting however the dark sky background creates a strong contrast and provides the protagonist space to be distinct from the gallery surroundings.

Graciela Iturbide was born in 1942 in Mexico City. She studied in Centro de Estudios Cinematográficos at the Universidad Nacional Autónama de México to become a film director, however she was influence by her tutor Manuel Alvarez Bravo and chose to continue in still photography. She has worked as his assistant and travelled widely across South America.  In 1978 she was commissioned by the Ethnographic Archive of the National Indigenous Institute of Mexico to photograph the country’s indigenous people.  This work took her to the Sonora Desert- an area that covers part of Southwest USA and Northern Mexico.

Here she photographed people that a growing part of the modern Mexican culture find unattractive.  The norm is to appreciate features that are more of European descent and this is evidenced by the booming plastic surgery industry.  What I responded most to is the dignified expression this young woman wears on her face that gives the impression she is well-rooted and a non-conformist to a changing attitudes of an “evolving” culture.

Iturbide’s work in the gallery ranges from these seemingly simple portraits to still life and journalistic pieces.  She shows everyday life where she lives, the same way that Eggleston does, however rather than using abstract shapes and bold colours she mostly works in black and white print and focuses more on indigenous rituals, gender identity and contrasts of urban and rural life.

She is featured in the Poetry and Dreams section, which features a mixture of paintings, sculptures and installations.  Iturbide’s work is in the adjacent room to works such as Barkley L. “Hendricks’ NNN (No Naked Niggahs)” and Christain Schad’s “Agosta, the Pigeon Chested Man, and Rasha, the Black Dove” both of which form part of Realism movement in the 20th century which is aimed to be immediately understandable as it is “made for ordinary people”.

At first it may not make sense that hyperrealistic or “immediately understandable” images are in the Poetry and Dreams section along side work such as Picasso’s “Weeping Woman 1937” or Joan Miro’s “Women and Bird in the Moonlight 1949”. However it would not be open minded to limit poetry and dreams to unusual colours and shapes.  Everyday life is poetic and dream-like provided you can see it.  It is obvious Iturbide does and she takes us along with her.

“Elective Eve”: William Eggleston

In a day, actually two days spent in Tate Modern, it is surprising that I was most intrigued by a print that did not scream the loudest in the room, despite the photographer: William Eggleston, is regarded as the revolutionary figure in using coloured prints from a fine arts perspective.  There were no over saturated or super-textural surfaces.  Also it is surprising that I was excited about a print that did not feature a person or any living thing for that matter.

The photograph is of an empty American diner with a colour-blocked wall of mint green and buttermilk yellow, interrupted with two decorations of plastic flowers and vegetables including an intensely red cherry tomato. There is a feeling of abandonment in a way that resembles a cliché of an old woman left at the altar 30 years ago that still wears her broken and tarnished wedding dress. The wall is further interrupted with an illuminated sign of green and white with the only visible text being “3”.

There are two tables with lacquered surfaces coloured white and grey that holds an ashtray, tooth picks placed inside a very small bottle, metal napkin holder, salt and pepper.

The arrangements of these differ on both tables as well as the chair combinations around it.  Each chair is of different material and colour, some repaired with silver coloured duck tape that adds onto the feeling of decay through disuse.  It feels ironic that the photograph was taken in 1976, at an era where diversity and equal opportunities were not seen as paramount, that each chair around one table is completely different.

The whole frame is almost equally in focus. The angle of the tables forms a natural lead-in-line that leads to no specific focus. This makes me regard the cliché abandoned old lady again and her hopeless cling onto hope that he will one day return after realising his mistake.

When this single image is placed together with other pieces from the “Elective Eve”, the feeling of abandonment increases.  The series feature pieces such as a rusty gasoline stand with no cars around, empty long roads and an oxidised metallic shed that is overgrown with vegetation. The series also allows the viewer to know that it was taken during the campaign period of Jimmy Carter- “let’s elect Jimmy Carter president” as stated by a car bumper. Eggleston was commissioned by the Rolling Stone magazine to photograph the state of Georgia before the election of Jimmy Carter.  Caldecot Chubb as their first book of original photographs, published this later.

Jimmy Carter was the 39th president of the USA and was elected on 2nd November 1976.  He left his mark in the American history with his work with the creation of Department of Energy and brought stricter regulations on nuclear energy plants following the  “Three Mile Island” accident in 1979. This may be a clue why these photographs feature in Energy and Processes Exhibition.

As the gallery leaflet states, Energy and Processes wing focuses on the Arte Povera movement of the 1960’s Italy and its reflections around the world.  This term was first used by the critic Germano Celant in 1967 and described a movement that tried to glue together the world of art with everyday life.  These pieces are characterised by juxtapositions of items that at first seem unrelated. It is not unthinkable at all that Eggleston is featured there as he describes his genre as “life today” and often his compositions are bold, striking and of very generic items such as cracked ceilings. The remainder of gallery features other artists showcasing sculptures using metal, glass and wood, collages and video. At first this reminded me of an exhibition in the Welcome Trust “Outsider Art from Japan” due to use of techniques such as quilting and objects that are readily available, however this is very much like saying that some work featured in an art gallery resembles Monet just because oil paints were used.

The room featuring Eggleston is large in size and only shows his work, keeping photography completely separate from the other mediums used. This is a good indication of the importance of his work in relation to the Arte Povera movement and art of this era.  His work stands out in the gallery due to it being presented in a simple black frame with white mounting.  This acts to visually saturate the colour a little more and strengthen the compositions.  It would have been very misfortunate not to display the work in this manner when impressive colour use is what he is most renowned for.

All photographs are by William Eggleston as part of “Elective Eve” series.


Kyiru’s Voyage

Hello my confidant.  It has happened again and I don’t know who else to tell. It appears that you are the only one that will believe me or even listen in the first place.  Again it was in the middle of my rest period that I found myself there, the location that I can‘t describe more accurately than “that world”.

Penetrated Rhombus

Girl in a box

It is the third time in this lunar cycle that I floated from my slumber to a place that lacks colour. This time I passively and reluctantly moved down a metallic sliding platform that penetrated a rhombus.  There was someone else in front of me and as he moved into the rhombus, I saw someone else come out of it.

I came across a girl that was stuck inside a box.  She sat at the edge of it, motionless apart from her hands, focusing on a small trinket that was transmitting visions and sounds.  From time to time she gazed to a white domed palace with a certain longing.  I believed that she was entrapped there and her person of interest was in the palace trying to communicate through her trinket.

Triangulated pigeonDead tree squaresI walked out of the invisible doors and saw a creature that reminded me of the pests that hide in our homes.  It hopped towards me as I reached out and travelled through the air, lacking grace or charm.  It flew past a most bizarre structure of interlinked squares of dead trees that reached nowhere.  I did not understand its function or what the two women on top of it were doing.
















 Metal City



I followed the direction of the thick strand of liquid with its never-ending motion towards a cold metallic structure.  My eyes instinctively travelled up to reveal the first letter of my name, Kyiru…  Could this be a coincidence or was there a higher power taking me there?  With this question that made me half scared and half excited, I glanced back over the metal lines uncovering the glass city where I woke up in and continued forward.

I continued forward through a dark tunnel resembling the metal platform that brought me there. The darkness was interrupted regularly with light sources, revealing interlinked squares and triangles.  I was taken aback when I noticed a glowing globe hanging at the edge of the tunnel exit.  What further surprised me was that there was someone inside a globe appearing larger and larger with small movements of his legs until he vanished and appeared in front of me.  The only logical explanation that I have is he travelled through the globe portal and that he is very used to this mode of transport, hence his lack of expression in response to my perplexed face.



Globe traveller

Hard water


Another curious fact was the abundance of water.  Apart from that giant moving strand, I could feel some on my face.  It was as if the water was able to fly but only in one direction.  Also something that would really impress the alchemists back home is that I’ve seen a see-thorough rock slowly turn into water. This rock had a symbol on it and it felt very very cold.


Like the vertically flying water, I too moved in one direction.  I don’t know why I chose to follow this route but it lead me into a building whose grandiosity suggested that it was a palace lacking security guards or any other means of selecting who is worthy to enter it.  The large groups of people moving independently like stray pockets of magic pushed me through a small gate.  My curiosity took the best of me and I jumped into a moving roofed metallic platform with circular feet that spun. It moved along a bed of metal lines that seemed to go on endlessly and was only interrupted in very short intervals by smaller lines perpendicular to it.



The inside of this roofed platform was spacious and was populated with cushioned seats.  Behind me I heard voices speaking in another tongue, and through the little crevice between the seats I started watching them.  Although it was the first time that I had seen them during that voyage, I could not shake off the feeling that we had met before.  As I tried to remember when I had encountered this man with the wavy hair, crinkled skin and velvet voice, he looked at me with his gentle eyes and once again I found myself back in my small humble lodgings, back in “my world”, yet another time.


I knew him