Graciela Iturbide was born in 1942 in Mexico City. In 1969 she enrolled at the age of 27 at the film school Centro de Estudios Cinematográficos at the Universidad Nacional Autónama de México to become a film director. However she was soon drawn to the art of still photography as practiced by the Mexican modernist master Manuel Alvarez Bravo
who was teaching at the University. From 1970-71 she worked as Bravo's assistant accompanying him on his various photographic journeys throughout Mexico.
In the early half of the 1970s, Iturbide traveled widely across Latin America in particular to Cuba and several trips to Panama.
In 1978 Graciela Iturbide was commissioned by the Ethnographic Archive of the National Indigenous Institute of Mexico to photograph Mexico's indigenous population. Iturbide decided to document and record the way of life of the Seri Indians, a group of fisherman living a nomadic lifestyle in the Sonora desert in the north west of Mexico, along the border with Arizona, US.
In 1979 she was invited by the artist Francisco Toledo
to photograph the Juchitán people who form part of the Zapotec culture native to Oaxaca in southern Mexico. Iturbide's series that started in 1979 and runs through to 1988 resulted in the publication of her book Juchitán de las Mujeres in 1989.
Between 1980 and 2000, Iturbide was variously invited to work in Cuba, East Germany, India, Madagascar, Hungary, Paris and the US, producing a number of important bodies of work.
She has enjoyed solo exhibitions at the Centre Pompidou
(1982), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
(1990), Philadelphia Museum of Art
(1997), The J. Paul Getty Museum
(2007), MAPFRE Foudation
, Madrid (2009), Photography Museum Winterthur
(2009), and Barbican Art Gallery
(2012), between others. Iturbide is the recipient of the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Foundation Award
, 1987; the Grand Prize Mois de la Photo, Paris, 1988; a Guggenheim Fellowship
for the project 'Fiesta y Muerte', 1988; the Hugo Erfurth Award, Leverkusen, Germany, 1989; the International Grand Prize, Hokkaido, Japan, 1990; the Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie Award, Arles, 1991; the Hasselblad Award, 2008; the National Prize of Sciences and Arts in Mexico City in 2008; an Honorary Degree in photography from the Columbia College Chicago in 2008; and an Honorary Doctorate of Arts from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2009.
Graciela Iturbide photographs everyday life, almost entirely in black-and-white, following her curiosity and photographing when she sees what she likes. She was inspired by the photography of Josef Koudelka
, Henri Cartier-Bresson
, Sebastiao Salgado
and Manuel Álvarez Bravo
. Her self-portraits especially reflect and showcase Bravo
's influence and play with innovation and attention to detail.
Iturbide eschews labels and calls herself complicit with her subjects. With her way of relating to those she is photographing, she is said to allow her subjects to come to life, producing poetic portraits. She became interested in the daily life of Mexico's indigenous cultures and people (the Zapotec, Mixtec, and Seri) and has photographed life in Mexico City, Juchitán, Oaxaca and on the Mexican/American border (La Frontera). With focus on identity, sexuality, festivals, rituals, daily life, death, and roles of women, Iturbide's photographs share visual stories of cultures in constant transitional periods. There's also juxtaposition within her images between urban versus rural life, and indigenous versus modern life. Iturbide's main concern has been the exploration and investigation of her own cultural environment. She uses photography as a way of understanding Mexico; combining indigenous practices, assimilated Catholic practices and foreign economic trade under one scope. Art critic, Oscar C. Nates, has describes Iturbide's work as "anthropoetic."
Iturbide has also photographed Mexican-Americans in the White Fence
(street gang) barrio of Eastside Los Angeles as part of the documentary book A Day in the Life of America
(1987). She has worked in Argentina (in 1996), India (where she made her well-known photo, "Perros Perdidos" (Lost Dogs)), and the United States (an untitled collection of photos shot in Texas).
One of the major concerns in her work has been "to explore and articulate the ways in which a vocable such as 'Mexico' is meaningful only when understood as an intricate combination of histories and practices."
She is a founding member of the Mexican Council of Photography. She continues to live and work in Coyoacán, Mexico.
In awarding her the 2008 Hasselblad Award, the Hasselblad Foundation said:
"Graciela Iturbide is considered one of the most important and influential Latin American photographers of the past four decades. Her photography is of the highest visual strength and beauty. Graciela Iturbide has developed a photographic style based on her strong interest in culture, ritual and everyday life in her native Mexico and other countries. Iturbide has extended the concept of documentary photography, to explore the relationships between man and nature, the individual and the cultural, the real and the psychological. She continues to inspire a younger generation of photographers in Latin America and beyond."
Some of Iturbide's recent work documents refugees and migrants. In her work Refugiados
(2015), offers a stark contrast between love and family and danger and violence showing a smiling mother holding her child in front of a hand-painted mural of Mexico dotted with safety and danger zones.
The largest institutional collection of Iturbide's photographs in the United States is preserved at the Wittliff collections, Texas State University, San Marcos, TX.