The problem with these three and at least three other prints in the UMMA exhibit is that they seem overexposed when compared with those featured in Aperture magazine's breathtaking 1997 Alvarez Bravo monograph and in its 1987 Alvarez Bravo collection. This impression was reinforced by a second trip to the exhibit with a photographer friend in tow. Aperture prints held next to exhibit prints revealed a distinct detail-obscuring muddiness in the latter. The muddiness changed the meaning of several photos. In the UMMA's Box of Visions, the woman's facial expression is eclipsed by shadow. In the Aperture print, her visible face projects resigned dread, creating an entirely different impression. Similarly, Aperture's Portrait of the Eternal offers a chiaroscuro Madonna; the UMMA's, a figure mired in shadow. Although Alvarez Bravo's vision still shines through, "it's like listening to a CD on three-inch speakers instead of full-sized ones," as my friend noted. The nonetheless compelling visual music is on display through October 13.
[Originally published in September, 2002.]