New York

Manuel Alvarez Bravo

MoMA/Robert Miller/Witkin Gallery/Throckmorton Fine Art

In the great portrait Frida Kahlo in Manuel Alvarez Bravo’s Studio, 1930s, the painter’s head, with its penetrating, questioning eyes, is twice rhymed elsewhere: in the mirrored ball next to her arm, which (like the mirror in Velasquez’ Las Meninas) gathers, concentrates, and somehow expands the space in the studio, thereby returning it as a distorted reflection; and in the carving on the floor behind her, staring blind-eyed and open-mouthed at nothing. This seems to say that, like any art, photography can encompass the function of the all-gathering yet alienating mirror, or the unseeing yet minatory messenger from beyond; but centrally, it can only be this questioning human intelligence, a gaze that neither wholly accepts nor rejects.

Photography is an art of rendering the surfaces of things, and in this photograph, as in so many by Alvarez Bravo, the presence of surfaces is manifest to

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