The women who photographed Frida Kahlo

I recently read about an exhibition in Arkansas called Photographing Frida: Portraits of Frida Kahlo/Fotografiando Frida: Retratos de Frida Kahlo, and I was immediately inspired to write this article.

The image of the artist Frida Kahlo is iconic. Her famous self-portraits adorn posters and products, as well a lovely tote bag Anthony recently bought me at Istanbul airport (for which I am happy to say I get many compliments.)

I admire Frida Kahlo greatly. She had tremendous tenacity, having had to cope with lifelong illness and pain after suffering from polio as a child and surviving a life-threatening tram crash at 18.

It can feel hard enough to create when our lives are going well, but to do so confronted by so many obstacles is incredibly inspiring to me.

Frida Kahlo by Lola Alvarez Bravo

It helps to remind that the obstacles that I put in my own way – like getting distracted by obsessive worrying or allowing myself to get sucked into the black hole of social media – can actually be put aside.

And how I would be more grateful for an hour spent working my own art, than any of those things I do to fritter away my time.

What interested me most though about this article is how many female photographers had photographed Kahlo over her short life (she died at the age of 47 in 1954).

Here I want to feature two of these photographers:

Imogen Cunningham

“She uses her medium, photography, with honesty, no tricks, no evasion: a clean-cut presentation of the thing itself, the life or whatever is seen through her lens, that life within the external form.” Edward Weston, 1923

Imogen Cunningham is perhaps now most famous for her photos of flowers and natural objects, but she also photographed portraits, industrial landscapes and street photography. As a portrait photographer she captured many celebrities of her era.

“So many people dislike themselves so thoroughly that they never see any reproduction of themselves that suits. None of us is born with the right face. It’s a tough job being a portrait photographer.” Imogen Cunningham

Her photographs of Kahlo are intensely intimate, and show both the strength and power of the artist, as well as the tenderness and vulnerability behind the image she projected.

Lola Álvarez Bravo

“I was almost thinking of her painting, The Two Fridas, when I photographed her. With the landscape behind her in the reflection, it seems as though there really is another person behind the mirror.”  Frida Kahlo by Lola Álvarez Bravo

Lola Álvarez Bravo started taking photos in 1920’s Mexico. After moving from bustling Mexico City to the rural and poverty stricken area of Oaxaca Mexico, she took up photography.

Combining a desire to capture local people, as well as famous artists like Kahlo and intellectuals, she became one of Mexico’s most famous photographers.

“I don’t have any mayor artistic aspirations, but if my photographs serve any purpose, they’ll be a chronicle of my country, time, people. They’ll tell the story of how Mexico has changed. My images include things you don’t see in Mexico anymore (…)

I was lucky to encounter and capture these images. One day they might serve as testimony of the time that’s gone by and the transformations it’s brought.  These are images that hit me on a deeper level, they shocked me into clicking the camera. When doing portraits, one has to really discover the person behind the image, being aware of their manners and attitude. Discover who they are and what they’re like.” Lola Álvarez Bravo from the article –The Photographer Who Captured Frida Kahlo’s Most Painful Moments

Álvarez’s photographs transport us back to a lost era. Her images give us a palpable feeling of location – of standing in the shade away from the hot sun on a quiet afternoon in a dusty square, watching two women talking, for example.

The people in her image burst with life, as she records the traditions of village life and day-to-day activities of living.

“I think Lola was a remarkable photographer, especially given all the challenges she faced. There were women artists, though women were not supposed to be working in the street but in the studio. But the kind of photography done at the time involved a greater public interface, and the fact that she did that showed her incredible strength and desire to photograph the world around her.” Elizabeth Ferrer, author of Lola Álvarez Bravo 

Read more about the other female photographers who captured Kahlo on ANother Magazine.