November 17, 2006

Mexico’s evolution through the lens of Agustin Victor Casasola

By Luis Alonso Pérez

On November 11 the San Diego Museum of Photographic Arts inaugurated the exhibition Mexico: The revolution and beyond – Photographs by Agustin Victor Casasola, 1900-1940. An exhibit that offers visitors more than 90 images on a wall and takes us in a historic journey though one of the most important chapters in Mexican history.

This small selection belongs to a photographic collection of more than half a million images taken by the prominent Mexican photographer Agustin Victor Casasola, considered a pioneer in photojournalism and the creator of one of the largest collection of graphic documents of Mexico’s shift from a rural to a modern society, during the first half of the 20th century.

The nine sections of the exhibit display four decades of hard work and relate the everyday lives of Mexican people. Photos of Porfirio Diaz sitting in the presidential chair and Madero’s troops riding triumphantly on horseback, to photos of elegant men in a train and a group of homosexuals in jail.

For the museum’s curator, Carol McCusker, this exhibit opened its doors close the Mexican revolution celebrations and it brings Mexicans the opportunity to explore the lifestyles of past generations.

“I think it would be very exciting. I know that when I see photographs of Ireland, which is my ancestry, I get lost in those photographs. I want to see what their faces looked like, I want to know what people wore, I want to see how modern my ancestors where and what year did modernity entered their vocabulary, and that’s what Casasola was really focusing on. He photographed the industrial revolution taking off in Mexico, how the rural peasantry living in the fields came to the city and started a new kind of life, and how that impacted the complexion and complexity of a growing nation”.

The exhibition is composed of 90 photographs with their text panels and two original photo albums filled with Casasola’s images, however, the preparation required many hours of preliminary work by curator Pablo Ortiz Monasterio, who selected the images from a 500 thousand-piece archive in the National Anthropology and History Institute (INAH) in Mexico City.

Since the glass plate negatives have deteriorated considerably because of time and the precarious chemical fixing processes used in the beginning of the XX century, Ortiz Monasterio scanned the plates and printed them using advanced digital printing techniques.

This traveling exhibit was produced by Spain’s Canopia Cultural Effort in collaboration with the National Anthropology and History Institute and Turner Publications. It has been shown in Spain, Vancouver and in Museo del Barrio in New York, but when the San Diego exhibit concludes it will return to the INAH building so it can “rest”.

A book with the same name was published by the Aperture Foundation to accompany the photographic exhibit. It was edited by Pablo Ortiz Monasterio and features texts by Pete Hamill, Rosa Casanova and Sergio Raul Arroyo.

Carol McCusker invited Mexicans and general population from both sides of the border to visit the Casasola exhibit and also take the time to visit an exhibition by renowned photojournalist Don Bartletti titled The roads most traveled: Photograph of migration, open to the public until January 14 2007.

The exhibit Mexico: The revolution and beyond will remain open until January 7, 2007, Monday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursday until 9 p.m.

For more information you can call the Museum of Photographic Arts (619) 238-7559 or visit their web site www. mopa.org

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