Skip to Content

Rio de Luz

JUNE 7 - OCTOBER 20, 2002
RIO DE LUZ: Illuminating Mexico

80 Vintage & Contemporary Prints from the Permanent Collection

Two Texas arts celebrities — Bill Wittliff (acclaimed screenwriter, filmmaker and photographer) and Keith Carter (internationally recognized photographer and educator) — collaborated to curate this “best of the best” showcase of eighty Mexico-focused photographs from the Wittliff Gallery’s extensive holdings. Established in 1996 at the Alkek Library on the campus of Texas State University-San Marcos, the gallery continues to build its treasury of more than 7300 prints, and fosters one of the largest collections of contemporary Mexican photography in the state. Río de Luz makes its central Texas debut on June 7 after returning from the inaugural showing at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas in Beaumont.

Dedicated to the memory of Mariana Yampolsky, the SWT exhibit features several best-loved images by this world-renowned Chicago-born photographer, who emmigrated to Mexico in the 1940s and died there this past May at the age of 77. Río de Luz co-curator and founding donor of the Wittliff Gallery, Bill Wittliff is probably best known for his screenplays, counting among his credits the miniseries Lonesome Dove, and feature films Raggedy Man with Sissy Spacek, Barbarosa and Honeysuckle Rose with Willie Nelson, The Black Stallion, and The Perfect Storm. But he’s also a respected photographer, and currently works with cameras he rebuilt using a pinhole “lens.” A native Texan, Wittliff has been photographing neighboring Mexico for decades, and two of his haunting sepia-toned prints created with these tragaluces (“light swallowers”) can be seen in Río de Luz.

Award-winning educator Keith Carter, who holds the endowed Walles Chair of Art at Lamar University, has lived in Beaumont, Texas, since he was three years old. Even though he earned his living for many years as a commercial photographer, he has always “made art” for himself. Heralded as “a poet of the ordinary” by the Los Angeles Times, Carter’s luminous, wonder-filled photographs now tour widely in solo and group shows around the U.S. and abroad, and are included in such prestigious permanent collections as the Art Institute of Chicago, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Currently he photographs, teaches, and lectures all over the world. The Wittliff Gallery houses the major collection of Carter’s prints. 

Wittliff and Carter titled the show Río de Luz (“River of Light”) in tribute to the ground-breaking twenty-plus book series published in the 1980s by El Fondo de Cultura Económica in Mexico City—one of the most important works on Mexican photography ever compiled. The exhibit features images by twenty-seven renowned artists, many of whom are celebrated in the book series, including two of its founding editors, Pablo Ortiz Monasterio and Pedro Meyer, as well as Mexican photojournalists Nacho López and Héctor García, master of composition Lázaro Blanco, visual poet Graciela Iturbide, grand centenarian Manuel Álvarez Bravo, and reflective humanist Mariana Yampolsky, whose recent passing on May 2, 2002 was a great loss to the photographic world.

Ranging from vintage to contemporary, these 80 images illuminate for viewers all the richness that is Mexico: the diversity, dignity, and strength of its people, the drama of their social conflicts, the originality of their ceremonies, and the ineffable attraction and beauty of the contrasting landscapes in which they live. Río de Luz also demonstrates the current scope of the Wittliff Gallery’s collection, beginning with its oldest photograph, The Corpse of Emperor Maximilian, the executed Austrian Archduke who tried to rule Mexico on behalf of France in the 1860s. This 1867 albumen print by French photographer François Aubert shows the embalmed imperialist in his coffin dressed in full uniform, his empty sockets eerily set with glass eyes taken from a local statue of the Virgen de los Remedios.

Over a quarter of the Río de Luz photographs are gracing the walls of the Wittliff Gallery for the first time, having been framed and matted specifically for the show. Among them: Chapultepec Castle, Mexico City, circa 1904, an example of the fastidious, objective eye of Frida’s father, Guillermo Kahlo; Flor Garduño’s 1982 portrait of esteemed Mexican author Juan Rulfo, made two years before his death; Sebastião Salgado’s seemingly three-dimensional image of a dog “keeping vigil” in a candlelit cemetery as mourners float like ghosts in the background; and what some would call Manuel Álvarez Bravo’s most famous work, Obrero en huelga asesinado (Striking Worker Assassinated), taken in 1934.

Visitors to the Wittliff Gallery’s prior showing of don Manuel’s recent contemplative series Variaciones: 1995 to 1997 will enjoy returning to experience eleven of his greatest earlier works, including Retrato de lo eterno” (Portrait of the Eternal), La buena fama durmiendo (“ood Reputation Sleeping”, and the enigmatic “arábola óptica (Optical Parable), all shot in the 1930s.

In fact, the whole Río de Luz list of Latin American photographers reads like a “Who’s Who.” Also on view are works by Lola Álvarez Bravo, Yolanda Andrade, Manuel Carrillo, Marco Antonio Cruz, Maya Goded, Luis González Palma, Luis Márquez, Eniac Martínez Ulloa, Francisco Mata Rosas, Raúl Ortega, Antonio Reynoso, Gerardo Suter, and Antonio Turok. And the exhibit includes two images by famed painter-turned-photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, whose first-ever photo exhibition was held in Mexico in 1935.