Sunday, March 25, 2007

Viva Casasola!

Having shortly lost the will to live at viewing yet another gruesome book by Jürgen Teller I stumbled upon a volume of photographs titled: “ Mexico, the Revolution and Beyond” which immediately restored me to good spirits. Intrigued by a photograph on page 3 showing a photographer in his darkroom, the as yet unknown to me Miguel “Miqui” Casasola, holding a plate in his hands, wearing a stained white apron, high heeled cow boy boots and a large revolver (!), I was drawn into the fascinating world of the Casasola archive.

This is not a nostalgic sepia collection of romantic grandmothers and fathers in their youth, but a vibrant impressive miscellany of great photojournalism, actual and fresh as the day it was taken in his authenticity and intensity. You get to meet the gaze of Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa as if you met them in person, ride with their fighters in a cloud of dust, stare down the barrel of an automatic pistol held by a federal army officer, stand between the firing line and the falling bodies of the executed as they fall in the dirt. As it happened, Miqui temporarily took to the other form of “shooting” as he joined one of the revolutionary armies as a soldier. Not exactly the impartial witness with a camera, more like very concerned with the issues at stake: Land and Freedom.
But there is more, as the collection consists of some 480.000 negatives, collected in a 40 year span, beginning from the birth of photojournalism in 1900 – the moment when halftone reproduction of photographs was possible in newspaper printing – to the forties.
It is the work of more than 400 photographers, besides the founder of the Casasola Agency, Augustín Víctor Casasola, his younger brother Miguel and his son Gustavo, who contributed to the news of their times and whose negatives were then preserved to form a collective historical memory of Mexico and a huge contribution to world photography. They have done it all, and earlier or at the same time as other better known European or North American photographers. Maybe it is the editor’s choice to cause this impression, but echo’s of other masters are found all over the publication, and in no way of lesser quality than the “originals”, by the way. Brassaï Paris night life work? They had done it before. Capa’s war? Done that too. August Sander? Yes! Weegee? Sure they have! And many many more. They did not set out to produce art, they were journalists during turbulent violent years of their modern history of which we Europeans seem to know far too little.
Fortunately their work has been preserved, a great legacy for the world of photography, and is to be found in the San Francisco convent, city of Pachuca, state of Hidalgo. Having been to Mexico, even if only for a few days, I strongly believe that it might be more than worth the trip.
As I go through the pages of this fine book I think about the title of a great photograph by the famous Mexican master Manuel Alvarez Bravo and repeat to myself, smiling in delight:
Qué chiquito es el mundo!

No comments: