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AUCTION 21

October 26, 2007

Collection of Original Glass Plate Negatives & Contact Prints

221. [PHOTOGRAPHY]. KAHLO, Guillermo (Carl Wilhelm). Collection containing 201 contact prints and thirteen original glass plate negatives. Mexico, ca. 1910-1920. Contact prints measure approximately 35 x 25.5 cm; most are identified and/or numbered at bottom and some have contemporary ink notes on verso. Image sizes vary but most occupy the full sheet. Large glass plate negatives measure approximately 35.5 x 28 cm; the few smaller ones, approximately 25.5 x 20.3 cm. Most are identified in contemporary manuscript or with labels. Many of the negatives are in contemporary protective envelopes with manuscript notes in ink. Prints slightly bowed, but otherwise very fine in strong impressions, divided between sepia and silver gelatin prints. A few of the glass plates have minor roughness on the edges, otherwise very fine.

            These images were originally commissioned by the Mexican Secretaría de Educación Pública, which deaccessioned this group several years ago. Some formed the basis of exhibitions in the 1980s and 1990s, including one at the Diego Rivera Museum. Many were published in Gerardo Murillo’s monumental Iglesias de México, 6 vols. (Mexico, 1924-27; Palau 186190) and Guillermo Kahlo, Fotografía oficial de monumentos (Mexico, 1992). They document outdoor scenes and both the exteriors and interiors of churches, monasteries, convents, and public buildings from all over Mexico, from those constructed during Spanish rule to those erected during the Díaz era. Kahlo’s main focus was on architecture rather than portraiture, although there are occasional images of other subjects, such as a dramatic, full-length glass plate image of Porfirio Díaz dressed in full regalia, which is apparently unpublished. Kahlo’s photographs are widely considered to be of the highest professional and documentary quality.

            At the time of these photographs, glass plate negatives were beginning to disappear, to be replaced by George Eastman’s invention, the photographic film we know today. Although Kahlo worked with the newer dry glass plates, the process was still somewhat cumbersome. Yet the results were beautiful because of the plates’ large format. Little is known about Kahlo’s precise working methods, but the entire process must have been rather unwieldy, since it clearly involved, at the least, lugging large supplies of plates all over the Mexican countryside and even, in some instances, carrying the equipment onto rooftops, as a few of these prints demonstrate. The great advantage of the glass plate process was that innumerable prints could be made from a single plate by treating a piece of paper and laying it on the plate, thereby transferring the images, which are, in these cases, fairly large and dramatic. On the other hand, the plates were relatively fragile and easily broken.

            Kahlo’s photographs document a controversial time in Mexican history. Many progressives and others felt that the large, Baroque edifices and art left by earlier generations were monstrosities that reflected an older, more decadent time. On the other hand, there were those who believed that the structures collectively constituted the “eighth wonder of the world.” In the end, the latter group came into dominance, especially in the person of President Porfirio Díaz who, although politically progressive, was immensely proud of Mexico’s past and its culture. It was in this spirit that Kahlo received his commission to document the country’s older structures, especially its churches and religious establishments, a task that required many years and travel to places that were barely accessible at the time. Among the areas he documented are structures in the states of México, Puebla, Oaxaca, San Luis Potosi, Querétaro, and Tlaxcala. Many of the places he documented have since been greatly modified and no longer resemble what Kahlo saw. By turns formal and painterly, Kahlo produced images ranging from full-blown, chiseled frontal views of churches to dramatic interior and exterior views that reflect a masterful use of light and shadow.

            As Jorge Alberto Manrique remarks: “Las fotografias de monumentos de Guillermo Kahlo son un testimonio altamete valioso en diversos sentidos. Corresponden a un momento de la cultura mexicana en que ésta inicia una revaloración de su pasado colonial y barroco; nos permiten apreciar la situación de tránsito de la fotografía mexicana a principios de siglo, que recoge aún la prestigiosa tradición pictórica y simultáneamente se encamina a un nuevo concepto fotográfico; y es testimonio de un patrimonio monumental ahora substancialmente alterado” (in Guillermo Kahlo, p. 18).

            Kahlo (1872-1941), a German who emigrated to Mexico in 1891, worked in various jobs before beginning his career as a photographer, using equipment he acquired from his homeland. He set up a photographic studio in 1901, working for El Mundo Ilustrado and Semanario Ilustrado. On a commission from Ministro de Hacienda José Yves Limantour, he toured Mexico widely, taking documentary photographs of various buildings, but concentrating primarily on colonial structures. Kahlo was one of the early professional photographers in Mexico and is believed to have taken about 6,000 glass plate images. His daughter was painter Frida Kahlo.

            An important and rare collection of documentary photographs by a talented and skilled pioneer Mexican photographer. An instant exhibition. ($20,000-40,000)

Sold. Hammer: $20,000.00; Price Realized: $23,500.00

Auction 21 Abstracts

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Original Glass Plate Negative

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Sample of Positive Image

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Original Glass Plate Negative

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Sample of Positive Image

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Original Glass Plate Negative

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Sample of Positive Image

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Original Glass Plate Negative

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Sample of Positive Image

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