The Americas 59.1 (2002) 130-132
[Access article in PDF]
Olivier Debroise, a French citizen who has lived his entire adult life in Mexico, is an art critic and curator, a prize-winning novelist, and the author of scripts for television and films. His Fuga mexicana (1994) was the first history of photography in Mexico to take a thematic approach to both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The volume was arranged through a musical metaphor; just as an original theme is taken up by other instruments in a fugue, Debroise pointed out the earliest uses of particular styles and genres of photography, then elaborated on their development as different photographers took them up. "In every case, I tried to define the territory, to reveal some structural constants and demonstrate repetitions and variations" (p. 13). He gave each of the chapters an appropriate musical title: "Obertura" for the introduction, "Canon" for the chapter on portraiture (including the registration of criminals), "Pastoral" for landscapes, "Oratorio" for images of progress, "Requiem" for those of ancient ruins, "Capricho" for a very brief chapter on photographs of colonial architecture, "Tocata" for the subject of indigenous people, "Contrapunto" on the photography of war, violence, and revolution, "Danzón" for the steps between Edward Weston, Tina Modotti, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, and Lola Alvarez Bravo, and finally "Fantasía" on the subject of photomontage.
The present edition has been ably translated by Stella de Sá Rego, who is Archivist of the Pictorial Collections at the Center for Southwest Research at the University of New Mexico. It has also changed in countless ways "in collaboration with the author," as the title page says. The notes have been expanded and moved to the back of the book, and the translator has added explanatory notes for those less familiar with Mexican history. Most of the strengths of this volume were already apparent in the earlier edition; Debroise's vivid writing, his knowledge of the history of photography, and his familiarity with archives in Mexico, the United States, and Europe informed his elucidations of significant national traits in photography in Mexico. His elaboration of the differences between photography in the Mexican Revolution and contemporaneous trends in European photography during World War I is particularly notable.
The temporal range of the volume has been extended by including portions of an earlier work by Rosa Casanova and Olivier Debroise entitled Sobre la superficie bruñida de un espejo (1989) both as a new chapter on daguerreotype portraiture [End Page 130] (cleverly entitled "Ritornello") and as additional material for the chapter on themes of war and violence. Additional material on the nineteenth century is much more substantial than the new material on the twentieth. Although in the original work Debroise had defined his temporal termination as "a mediados de la década de los cincuenta" (1994, p. 20), the revised and translated edition claims to carry its themes up "to the last decade of the twentieth century" (2001, p. 13). If the earlier ending date was excessively modest, the later one risks overstatement, since very little text has been added to the original work on the second half of the twentieth century.
In addition to these changes in the original text, there are countless changes in the illustrations. Prints of photographs have been added that were described, but not shown, in the first edition, such as a nineteenth-century Veracruz street scene from the Musée de l'Homme in Paris, Nacho López's photo of hands emerging from a Lecumberri prison cell, and a striking photograph of Victoriano Huerta and his officers, which Debroise describes: "Huerta appears severe and inscrutable, lugubrious in his general's uniform covered with medals, emerging from the shadows within a carefully measured penumbra" (p. 181). Other changes detract from the volume. Although some of the photos appeared washed-out with insufficient...