Manuel Álvarez Bravo was born in Mexico City on 4 February 1902. He left school at the age of twelve in order to help support his family after his father’s sudden death. He found work at a textile factory, and later, at the National General Treasury working as a government bureaucrat. He went back to education in 1918 and attended the Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes, studying Painting and Music.
In 1923, Bravo received his first camera and began to teach himself the fundamentals of photography. He started freelancing for a magazine in Mexico City called Mexican Folkways, which was dedicated to Mexico’s cultural history and the arts. When the editor and fellow photographer, Tina Modotti, was deported from Mexico in 1930, he took over the job, which enabled him to expand his photographic knowledge, documenting life around his home. In 1932, he gave up his job in the Treasury to focus on photography full time.
During the 1920s, Bravo would photograph Mexico City’s people, nature and historic buildings, expressing the essence of his country with his lens. His early work was influenced by the European avant-gardes, particularly Cubism and Surrealism. Although he was never considered part of the Surrealist movement, his work captured the hidden and surreal essences beneath the everyday reality he photographed. He was also heavily influenced by his friend, the photographer, Edward Weston. Throughout the 1930s and the 1940s, he continued documenting life in Mexico, although shifted more towards landscapes, both in and around the city.
During his career Bravo received international recognition for his photographs, which reflected the culture of post-revolution Mexico. In 1955, Steichen selected Bravo’s photography to be included in his ground-breaking exhibition The Family of Man at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Further international exhibitions followed including exhibitions in Israel, India, China and Spain.
Bravo died at his home in Mexico City on 19 October 2002 at the age of 100.