Brief overview of Latin American photography

Posted on August - 2 - 2016

Manuel Alvarez Bravo. Photo courtesy:

Manuel Alvarez Bravo. Photo courtesy:

Since the ruptures that occurred at the beginning of the last century, art has taken new directions and challenged establish notions of what is considered “high art.” Like Walter Benjamin foresaw in 1936 with his influential essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” due to the growing industrial developments and the paradigm shift from the “authentic” works of art, associated with painting and the beaux-arts, to the reproducible, linked to film and photography. It is a tangible fact that photography has settled into the part of one of the leading forms of communication and expression, changing and challenging boundaries. Nowadays photography has become an even stronger agent of visual democratization and globalization as the new social media phenomenon has gripped the way people communicate and exchange information. Benjamin couldn’t have imagined the extent of which his predictions would become realities.

TM woman with olla

Tina Modotti. Photo Courtesy:

For any keen dilettante in the field of photography, it is essential to be versed in the progressive development of photography in the last 100 years. This new technology arrived in Latin America, mainly as a form of documentation, either commercially or as a tool for anthropological studies of native indigenous groups. It soon became a fashionable pursuit in the United States and Europe, but in Latin America, it took a little more time for it to branch out from its initial ethnological usage.

Slowly foreign artists started arriving in Latin America and igniting the interest in photography. Such was the case of the Italian-born Tina Modotti and American Edward Weston migration to Mexico, where they would influence and promote local photographers such as Lola and Manuel Alvarez Bravo. Their images captured daily life, introducing indigenous people and their costumes with different compositions.

Other immigrants like the German-born Grete Stern brought some of the progressive ideas circulating in Europe to Argentina, experimenting with the truth behind oniric and composed images.

Post–World War II Latin America saw a growing interest in politicized photography and a division started appearing, between socially and politically engaged photographers and artistic or commercial photographers. Magnum Photo, the photojournalist group, was set up in 1947 and in the 50’s the Cuban Revolution produced iconic pictures of the revolutionaries fighting for the social cause. The emblematic image of Che Guevara, taken by Alberto Korda has become one of the international symbols of the communist movement in Latin America.


Grete Stern. Photo courtesy:

The following decades saw Latin Americans democratic governments fall into military regimes. Photographers in that time were interested in depicting the injustices of their countries, as well as the diverse cultural costumes coexisting in the tumultuous continent.

The 80’s and 90’s welcomed democracy with opened arms which led to the arts to shift their interests to broader subjects. A varied array of photographers came forth that vary from style, subject matter and affiliation.

Nowadays, photography witnesses constant changes in its never settling paradigm, but it is undeniable that some of the relevant imagery set forth by Latin American photographers or foreign photographers working in this countries, are closely related to the development of this countries.

By: Gabriela Martinez

GT, Indios in the Chaco, Argentina 1964, C. Wirmarart.comGrete Stern, Indios in the Chaco. Photo Courtesy: