Graciela Iturbide’s Photos of Mexico Make ‘Visible What, to Many, Is Invisible’

Over the past 50 years, Ms. Iturbide has captured layers of Mexico’s diverse cultures and practices, as well as the struggles and contrasts across the nation.

“Mujer Ángel, Desierto de Sonora, México (Angel Woman, Sonora Desert, Mexico),” 1979. Credit Graciela Iturbide/Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Text by Evelyn Nieves

Photographs by Graciela Iturbide

Graciela Iturbide may be one of the most renowned photographers working today. Five decades into her journey with a camera, her work, most famously in indigenous communities in her native Mexico, has achieved that rare trifecta — admired by critics, revered by fellow photographers and adored by the public. She continues to travel, photograph and exhibit all over the world.

But it is becoming impossible to discuss her work without mentioning the Zapotec woman wearing five live iguanas on her head.

“Torito, Ciudad de México (Little Bull, Coyoacán, Mexico City),” 1982. CreditGraciela Iturbide/Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
“Nuestra Señora de las Iguanas, Juchitán, México, (Our Lady of the Iguanas, Juchitán, Mexico),” 1979. Credit Graciela Iturbide/Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
“Los Pollos, Juchitán, México (Chickens, Juchitán, Mexico),” 1979. Credit Graciela Iturbide/Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Ms. Iturbide made the photo after happening upon Zobeida Díaz at a farmer’s market while living with the Juchitán of southeastern Oaxaca in 1979. It took several tries — the iguanas kept moving around, falling off, reducing her subject to laughter — but on her contact sheet, Ms. Iturbide found her “Nuestra Señora de las Iguanas (Our Lady of the Iguanas),” an image so arresting that 40 years later, its popularity is still growing.

In Mexico, “Nuestra Señora” is on murals, posters, postcards and road signs to Juchitán, and rendered into a life-size bronze sculpture in the Juchitán town square. It covers a brick building wall in East Los Angeles. It has gone viral. Fans have taken the rich black-and-white image and recreated it into graphic art, self-portraits, YouTube videos.

No wonder Ms. Iturbide says the image “is no longer mine.”

Nor is that iconic image her only claim to fame. In a long and varied career, Ms. Iturbide, 76, has done deep dives into her beloved country. She has documented the Seri Indians of Sonora, goat-slaughter festivals among the Mixtec of Oaxaca, funeral rites, cultural practices, complex landscapes, birds, herself.

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