Visiting Gabriel Figueroa @LACMA

Mexico has a long history of amazing cinematographers, but none is more beautiful nor visually eloquent as Gabriel Figueroa.

Gabriel Figueroa was a master of light and shadows, one of the most prolific Mexican cinematographers who shot the films that are representative of the Epoca de Oro del Cine Mexicano. He worked with the most famous directors and actors of his day and helped create a collective image of a time and place in Mexico that existed mostly in black and white. And the remarkable thing is he did it with a film camera, a light meter, and film negatives. Remember those? There weren’t any computers, no Photoshop nor digital tools back in the 1940’s. 

LACMA recently opened a new exhibit featuring his work and influence. “Under the Mexican Sky-Gabriel Figueroa: Art and Film” is a joint project between LACMA, The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, Televisa, Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes and Conaculta. I’m glad all these organizations got together to make this happen because there aren’t usually many exhibits dedicated to cinematography. This is a real treat.

As you walk through the hall you see montages on large screens of his films with the directors El “Indio” Fernandez and Luis Buñuel. What struck me most was how much a single image, a still frame of a moving shot, could be a stand alone piece of art.

Those images convey beauty, sadness, pride, melancholy or just profound admiration for the landscape and scenery, el paisaje mexicano. I was also struck by how much women cried in these stories- puro melodrama y sufrimiento- and how men were  always “engrandecidos y valientes” almost to a fault. There are bits of his work from the movies Flor Silvestre, Maria Candelaria, Enamorada, Bugambilia, La Perla, Maclovia, Un Dia de Vida, Los Olvidados, among many others. 

You also see the influence painters such as Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco had on Figueroa’s work. It was like he was applying film to their paintings. My dear friend Alex Munguia used to tell me that if I wanted to take better photographs, then I should study famous painters and try to emulate what they did. Of course he was right, but it became completely evident to me once I saw the relationship between Diego Rivera’s Murals of the Mexican Revolution and Gabriel Figueroa’s Cinematography. Isn’t it interesting how different art forms relate and influence each other? The medium is different, but both are equally powerful.

Mr. Figueroa lived to be 90 years old and stayed active in film and the arts until the end. I hope you can go admire his work in this fabulous exhibit. It runs until February 2, 2014.

Gabriel Figueroa in 1945 during the filming of "La Perla" (Dir. Emilio "Indio" Fernandez)

Gabriel Figueroa in 1945 during the filming of “La Perla” (Dir. Emilio “Indio” Fernandez)

Los ojos de Maria Félix, forever immortalized by the lens of Gabriel Figueroa.

Los ojos de Maria Félix, forever immortalized by the lens of Gabriel Figueroa.

There are plenty of screens with montages of his works as well as still shots and other memorabilia.

There are plenty of screens with montages of his work, as well as still shots and other memorabilia.

Mexican beauties as observed by Gabriel Figueroa, who wa snot afraid of the extreme close up. Among his leading ladies are Maria Félix, Dolores del Rio and Columba Dominguez.

Mexican beauties as observed by Gabriel Figueroa, who was not afraid of the extreme close up. Among his leading ladies are Maria Félix, Dolores del Rio and Columba Dominguez.

Maria Félix and Columba Dominguez in a dramatic moment.

Maria Félix and Columba Dominguez in a dramatic moment.

"Dia de Flores" by Diego Rivera, apr of the exhibit and cited as one of the references in Gabriel Figueroa's cinematography.

“Dia de Flores” by Diego Rivera, part of the exhibit and cited as one of the references in Gabriel Figueroa’s cinematography.

Even if she wanted to look ordinary, Maria Félix was stunning on screen.

Even if she wanted to look ordinary, Maria Félix was stunning on screen.

The contrast, shadows and light are simply beautiful.

The contrast, shadows and light are simply beautiful.

Un paisaje con la "Mujer Dormida" al fondo.

Un paisaje con la “Mujer Dormida” al fondo.

Pedro Armendariz in all his glory.

Pedro Armendariz in all his glory.

Para mi, Roberto Cañedo is the most attractive man in Mexican Cinema. Here he romances Columba Dominguez.

Para mi, Roberto Cañedo is the most attractive man in Mexican Cinema. Here he romances Columba Dominguez.

Posters from Mexican movies, in different languages.

Posters from Mexican movies, in different languages.

Gabriel Figueroa checking his negatves in 1994. This photograph was taken by his son, Gabriel Figueroa Flores.

Gabriel Figueroa checking his negatives in 1994. This photograph was taken by his son, Gabriel Figueroa Flores.

EntradaGabrielFigueroa

Go see this exhibit on view at LACMA.

Go see this exhibit on view at LACMA.

2 thoughts on “Visiting Gabriel Figueroa @LACMA

  1. helloooo! ayer se fueron los alumnos con una profesora… espero hayan entrado a la sale de Gabriel Figueroa… tienes toda la razón, son imágenes increíblemente, y a veces dolorosamente, emotivas y profundas, who knew feelings could be photographed in such a profound manner!! beautiful sister! xoxo Ale

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