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.