Graciela Iturbide wanted to be a writer and later a filmmaker, but when she met Manuel Álvarez Bravo she was extremely moved by his photography and decided to become a photographer. For Iturbide, photography is a way of getting to know, explore and research other cultures, beginning with her own. The camera becomes a tool of knowledge for her. Cartier Bresson, Koudelka and Hiroshi Hamaya, are among her many role models, professionally speaking.
In 1969 she enrolled in the Center for Film Studies (Centro Universitario de Estudios Cinematográficos) where she became a student and assistant of the man who would also become her mentor, Manuel Álvarez Bravo.In 1970 the death of her daughter Claudia plunged her into several years of grief and a fixation with death, from which the artist herself claims that death rescued her «It told me End it now, beware of it and I did».
She later traveled to Panama to photograph General Omar Torrijos, and immediately afterwards, in 1975, her first exhibition Tres fotógrafas mexicanas[Three Mexican photographers] was held at the José Clemente Orozco Gallery in Mexico. In 1979 she traveled to the Sonora desert where she took one of her most famous photographs, Mujer ángel [Angel Woman]. This trip would give rise to the projectLos que viven en la arena [Those who live in the sand], (1981). She also visited Juchitán at the invitation of the artist Francisco Toledo to work on an exhibition about the Zapotec culture. Her immersion in the Zapotec culture and her encounter with Toledo who, from that point onwards would become a close companion and have a huge intellectual influence on both her life and work, were two crucial moments in her career.
«Although we reject our upbringing, we carry it with us and it is part of us» says Iturbide in response to questions about her interest in symbols and rituals. This photographer, a practicing agnostic, was brought up in a middle class Catholic and Mexican family, where symbols and rituals formed an inherent part of the language: as a young girl, Graciela would be dressed as the Virgin Mary or a little angel depending on the particular festival.
The photographer devours the writer and filmmaker: words and motion are trapped in the static image of the world that Iturbide offers us. Her photography is clearly recognizable for its surrealism, its poetry and a certain kind of carnality.
In 1980 her work was exhibited in Mexico City and Juchitán and in 1982 the Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris) held her first trans-Atlantic solo exhibition (she had been exhibiting since 1976 in the United States). From this moment on, Iturbide held exhibitions around the world, with two major exhibitions taking place in 1996: Graciela Iturbide, la forma y la memoria at the Museo de arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey and Graciela Iturbide: Images of the spirit which was on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art as well as in other institutions.
The theme of travel is ever present in her work and something to learn from. In the 1990s she traveled to Varanasi in India. She discovered solitude in the United States in 2000, where she photographed landscapes for the first time in Tampa, Florida. The idea of landscape and the horizon took center stage once again for Iturbide. She returned to India.
In 2006, back in Mexico, she photographed the opening of Frida Kalho’s bathroom, which had been closed by Diego Rivera in 1954. Iturbide is not a huge Frida fan, as she herself acknowledges, but Frida is Saint Frida Kalho in Mexico and she treats her legend with respect. The evocative nature of this work allows us to imagine the days and nights of an artist marked by pain and the crushing oppression of corsets, crutches, politics and her own illness.
Japan, Korea, Italy; as the list of countries grew, so did the number of awards she received:theEugene Smith Memorial Foundation Grant the First Prize at Mois de la Photo in Parisand the International Grand Prize in Hokkaido , Japan. In 2008 Iturbide won the Hasselblad Award, the highest distinction a photographer can currently receive.
«I’m a solitary person, that’s why I chose photography over film. When you take photographs you’re alone, and you also have those nights of reflection».