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Mexican artist Graciela Iturbide receives Outstanding Contribution to Photography

woman at bar
Mexico City, 1969 (Image credit: Sony WPA, Graciela Iturbide)

The World Photography Organization has honored Mexican photographic artist Graciela Iturbide with the Outstanding Contribution to Photography Award, as part of the Sony World Photography Awards 2021.

Widely recognized as Latin America’s greatest living photographer, Iturbide’s work offers a photographic account of Mexico since the late Seventies and is celebrated for its defining contribution to the country’s visual identity.

In images of everyday life, and its culture alongside those of ritual and religion, Iturbide’s images explore her country’s many complexities and contradictions, questioning its inequalities and highlighting the tensions between the urban and rural, the modern and indigenous. Her photographs go beyond straight documentary narratives and aim to provide a poetic vision of their subjects, informed by the photographer’s personal experiences and journey.

Nuestra Señora de las Iguanas, Juchitán, México, 1979 (Image credit: WPA, Graciela Iturbide)

From 15 April, 25 images from Iturbide’s oeuvre will be presented in a virtual exhibition available to view via the World Photography Organization’s website. The selection, made by the artist, highlights significant milestones and themes from her five-decade career including some of her most iconic images such as Nuestra Señora de las Iguanas (Our Lady of the Iguanas) and Mujer ángel (Angel Woman).

Graciela Iturbide was born in 1942 in Mexico City to a traditional Catholic family, where she was the eldest of 13 siblings. Growing up, she admired her father’s amateur photography and cherished the box containing her family’s photographs. She married at the age of 20 and had three children in quick succession. 

It wasn't until 1969, at the age of 27, that she decided to pursue her artistic passions and enroll in the Film Center of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. It was there, while studying with modernist master and subsequent mentor Manuel Álvarez Bravo, that she decided to turn her attention towards photography. During this time photography also became a form of therapy for Iturbide when, in 1970, she tragically suffered the loss of her six year-old daughter, Claudia.

Self Portrait In The Country, 1996 (Image credit: Graciela Iturbide)

Today, her work with the Seri and later the Zapotec community in Juchitán is among Iturbide’s most celebrated. Not seeking to exoticize her subjects, Iturbide’s images offer the perspective of one wishing to understand and acknowledge her own culture. In addition to photographs of indigenous populations in Mexico, the selection also includes images from Iturbide’s travels to Italy, the United States and India focusing on the natural world and highlighting her fascination in its inherent symbolism and spirituality.

"I am delighted and honored to receive this award," said Iturbide. "This kind of acknowledgement is a great incentive to continue working. Everything that I photographed throughout my life has filled my spirit and pushed me to repeat the process again and again. Photography, for me, creates a feeling of understanding towards what I see, what I live for and what I feel and is a good pretext to know the world and its culture."

The Outstanding Contribution to Photography honors a person or group of people that have made a significant impact on the photographic medium. As its 14th recipient, Graciela Iturbide joins a distinguished list of iconic names including William Eggleston (2013), Mary Ellen Mark (2014), Martin Parr (2017), Candida Höfer (2018), Nadav Kander (2019) and Gerhard Steidl (2020).

For more information, visit the World Photography Organization online.

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Alistair Campbell

Alistair is the Features Editor of Digital Camera magazine, and has worked as a professional photographer and video producer.