Our collective mental image of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo has been informed, mostly, by the vibrant self-portraits she painted over the years. But she also had a collection of photographs — about 6,500 of them — that were held privately for decades after her death at the request of her husband, Diego Rivera.
In 2007, those photos were finally opened to the public, and since then, perceptions of Kahlo have been evolving. "There's so much to find in them," says Cythnia Connolly, visual curator at Artisphere in Arlington, Va., where a selection of Kahlo's photos are on display for the first time in the U.S.
Photography was in Kahlo's blood. Her father, Guillermo, a German immigrant, made his living as a photographer, which he learned from his father. And one recurring motif in Frida's family photos are Guillermo's photographic self-portraits.
That's one thing, says Connolly, that might illuminate Kahlo's work — or at least her fascination with the self-portrait: Perhaps she was channeling her father.
Though only a few of the photos in the exhibit are credited to Kahlo herself, it's clear that she sustained an interest in the medium. Many of the visual artists in Kahlo's circle were prominent photographers like Edward Weston, Manuel Alvarez Bravo and Tina Modotti; some of their photos are found in her collection.
Above all, Connolly emphasizes that it's just fun. "It's fun to see snapshots of these people just living their lives," she says. "It's a window into her life." A candid, sometimes humorous, portrait we haven't seen until recently.
Why Arlington, Va., of all places? Turns out that's the sister city to Coyoacan, Mexico, where the exhibit originated at the Museo Frida Kahlo. Frida Kahlo: Her Photos was curated and based on the book by contemporary Mexican photographer Pablo Ortiz Monasterio, who, in turn, has photos in an exhibition in San Francisco.
The Washington Post has more.