Juan Rulfo Photography Exhibition Explores Landscape and People of Mexico

PROVO, Utah -During the 1940s and 50s, Mexican writer Juan Rulfo (1917-1986) explored the root and character of Mexican identity by turning his attention, and his camera, to rural Mexico. His photographs captured the austerity, solitude and resilience of the landscape and people.

The Brigham Young University Museum of Art will show a selection of Rulfo’s photographs in an exhibition titled “Photographing Silence: Juan Rulfo’s Mexico.” The 62 black and white silver gelatin prints in this exhibition will be on view from January 20 through May 29, 2006. The exhibition follows the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rulfo’s best-known novel, Pedro Pramo, and marks the first time his photographs have been shown in Utah.

“Rulfo’s photography does not idealize rural life in Mexico, but quietly observes and critiques the forces that have shaped that way of life,” says BYU Museum of Art Curator of Photography Diana Turnbow. “The integrity and poignancy of his images equitably places Rulfo amongst the distinguished photographers of Mexico.”

Paisaje de la vega de Metztitln (Landscape of the plain of Metztitln), by Juan Rulfo; silver gelatin print

One of the most influential members of his generation, Rulfo experienced first hand as a child the violence and social unrest of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917) and subsequent Cristero Revolt (1926-1928), events that dramatically shaped modern Mexico.  Twenty years later, Rulfo documented the architectural remnants of the past – archaeological sites, decaying buildings, colonial edifices, and vacant towns. 

In contrast, the people in Rulfo’s photographs speak of the reality of life after the Revolution. Amidst the gravity of life and death they communicate a quiet persistence – even resilience – of spirit and activity, as people farm, gather at market, and participate in festivals and religious rituals. Ever present in Rulfo’s photographs is the landscape.  At times seemingly harsh and overwhelming, the landscape, which delineates and supersedes human history, has its own soul and beauty.

Parallel themes of death, solitude, and devotion occupy Rulfo’s writing.  His literary pursuits culminated in the publication of a collection of short stories, “El llano en llamas” (1953) and the novel Pedro Pramo (1955).  Both works have become classics of Mexican literature and have been acclaimed internationally. 

To a large extent, Rulfo’s literary success eclipsed his significant work in photography, film, and indigenous studies.  Rulfo, himself chose not to exhibit his photographs until late in life. Yet the opening of his archive revealed a rich and extensive visual record of rural and urban Mexico at a formative period in the 20th century. 

The BYU Department of Spanish and Portuguese is sponsoring a film and lecture series related to Rulfo’s life and art that will run concurrent with the exhibition. The series will include 10 film screenings, five lectures and conversations with two Mexican directors: Roberto Rochn Naya and Juan Carlos Rulfo, the author’s youngest son.

“The Juan Rulfo Film and Lecture Series was organized to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Rulfo’s death by celebrating his life, his literature and his passion for the visual image,” says Douglas Weatherford, BYU Spanish professor and series organizer.

The first lecture in the series will be presented by Vctor Jimnez, professional architect, friend of the Rulfo family, and director of the Fundacin Juan Rulfo, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2006 in the Museum of Art Auditorium. Jimnez will discuss Rulfo’s passion for photography with special emphasis on the artist’s concern for architecture. Admission to the lecture is free; however, seating is limited.

“Photographing Silence: Juan Rulfo’s Mexico” is the property of Clara Aparicio de Rulfo and is maintained and distributed by the Fundacin Juan Rulfo located in Mexico City.  Support for this exhibition comes in part from the Fundacin Juan Rulfo and the BYU Department of Spanish and Portuguese. This exhibition is free and open to the public during regular museum hours. Gallery information will be available in both English and Spanish.

An opening reception for “Photographing Silence: Juan Rulfo’s Mexico” will be held Thursday, January 19, 2006 following the lecture by Vctor Jimnez. Light refreshments will be served. The lecture and reception are free and open to the public.

More information about the Juan Rulfo Film and Lecture Series is available from the BYU Spanish and Portuguese Department. Those interested can e-mail Douglas Weatherford at douglas_weatherford@byu.edu