By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Like Yampolsky, Flor Garduño focuses her lens on the lives of peasants in Mexico and South America. At 43, Garduño is the youngest and most prominent (read: expensive) of the three. The subject of a Meadows Museum show in 1993, Garduño studied at the Academy of San Carlos, the famous government-sponsored art school, and began her career as Manuel Alvarez Bravo's darkroom assistant. Garduño's work, like the other photographers', has appeared in a monograph, and many photos in the current show appear in that volume.
Unlike Yampolsky's work, however, Garduño's photos are very self-consciously "art." From conception to development, Garduño packs in as much pathos as she can. You can see it in her subjects--peasants carrying small coffins on their backs--and in the desolation, the mist, even her subjects' size, shrunken by malnourishment. You can even see it in print; Garduño's monograph gives her the full artiste treatment, with an impenetrable and criminally self-indulgent introduction by no less a literary light than Carlos Fuentes.
By and large, she lives up to the billing. Garduño's most evocative works are pictures of peasants, who are not individuals so much as ancient and indigenous archetypes. Here, an Indian Venus, there, a modern-day Mayan priest in feathered costume. Garduño dares the viewer not to be moved by the dignity, the stoicism in the people she photographs, carrying children into the mist and to the grave, or lying on woven mats dreaming ancient dreams. Even the agonized faces of carved crucifixion scenes seem to reflect real suffering. Hell yes, we're being manipulated, but when manipulation is as mesmerizing as this, who can complain?
But it is the third photographer, Cristina García Rodero, whose work steals the show. Like the others, Garca focuses on folk customs--this time of her native Spain, where the 50-year-old was born and educated, earning a master's degree in painting. Unlike the others, however, Garca has that rarest of gifts: the ability to capture what Cartier-Bresson termed "the Decisive Moment."
This talent lends Garca an astonishing range. She is equally adept at true photojournalism, say, capturing the anger and grief of a Georgian mother as she buries her son, and at work in a more documentary vein, such as a Spanish priest leaping over a gaggle of infants in an ancient rite designed to deliver them from evil. In photographs such as "The Powers of the Soul," she manages to pack a narrative into 1/400th of a second. And she has a keen eye for the absurd, for the surreal, for the human. In photographs such as "The Bullfighting Team," a deadpan shot of a troupe of bullfighting dwarves, her work displays humor and perhaps even a disturbing touch, suggesting a kinder and gentler version of photographer Joel-Peter Witkin's sideshow horrors.
Garca forces us to see the sacred in the profane and the profane in the sacred, enlarging everyday juxtapositions we pretend not to see, or simply overlook. She reminds us that life produces moments far more surreal than anything concocted in the darkroom, or the studio, or in the imagination of writers. And she knows enough to play it straight. What more can we ask of great art?