Land of make-believe: The pictures of Flor Garduno lend a fairy-tale quality to Latin America. That's why, argues Jane Richards, she is not just another Mexican photographer

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
The profile of Mexican photography has been raised considerably by the recent sale of Tina Modotti's 1925 photograph Roses for an unprecedented dollars 165,000. Though Italian-born and raised in California, Modotti's astonishing photographic output grew out of her experiences in her adopted country, Mexico, where she was apprenticed to the great photographer (and Modotti's lover) Edward Weston. One of Modotti's greatest admirers was the young Mexican photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo - who went on to achieve international acclaim. And now it's the turn of his apprentice, Flor Garduno, who celebrates her first British exhibition, 'Witnesses of Time' at the National Museum of Photography.

Carrying the Mexican torch, Flor Garduno has taken pictures of her native Latin America on her travels through the more remote regions of Guatemala, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, focusing on the culture, landscape, architecture and religious ceremonies of some of the 40 million indians living in the continent. In search of an expression for this indigenous culture's fight for survival, she has produced a surreal body of work where lone figures inhabit strange landscapes and haunted, or masked, faces stare out from stark portraits. What emerges is a world of the dispossessed, obscured through the years by the European invasion. The rigours of daily rural life are seen to be alleviated by overwhelming religious and mystic beliefs which dominate the lives of this American people.

In Garduno's stunning body of black-and-white photography, Tina Modotti's influence both endures and ends. Here is Modotti's mastery of the subtle nuances of light and shade, together with the kind of exquisite composition learnt from Edward Weston and continued in the work of Alvarez Bravo. But there the similarity ends. For Flor Garduno's photographs are as magical and other-worldly as Modotti's are grounded in an unshakeable realism. Where Modotti was committed to a political form of artistic expression, Garduno seeks to heighten the mythical aspects of Latin American culture and does so by embuing her subjects with ethereal qualities.

This could almost be a land of make-believe, in the realm of fairy-tales, where statues seem to breathe and small children turn to stone. A masked figure becomes a dog in human clothes, an old man seems to dance with a wooden statue of a saint. In an introduction to the exhibition catalogue, the Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes delivers a fitting tribute, noting 'the profiles of the only real American aristocracy; two boys who are kings of clubs . . . ancient kings, fallen princes: they have no other dominion than that of time'.

To 5 June, National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, Pictureville, Bradford (0274 72748)

(Photographs omitted)

Comments