Research Makes First-Time Study of Frida Kahlo Portrait Photos
UC3M/DICYT The characteristics of the nearly 800 photographs of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo taken over a period of more than 40 years are analyzed in their entirety and for the first time in a study carried out by the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M). The research analyzes the photographic images of Frida Kahlo, images which have never been studied as a whole. “Even though the artist is a very important figure in the Mexican mindset, until now there has been no study of these characteristics about the photos she appears in,” said UC3M professor Nieves Limón, who wrote her doctoral thesis about this subject almost 60 years after the artist’s death on July 13th, 1954.
Frida Kahlo was closely tied to photography. Through posing, the Mexican artist constructed a mindset in which one recognizes many of the aesthetic elements characteristic of her work. After all, for Kahlo, photography would be an evocative tool for producing images. “The construction and use of her own image as raw material for her work is one of the fundamental principles of the Mexican’s work,” notes Nieves Limón, who divulged some results of her research in an article published in the journal Área Abierta.
Specifically, Nieves Limón, from the UC3M Department of Journalism and Audiovisual Communication, focused her study on a collection of images in which Frida Kahlo appears as a model. The frequency with which she posed for different photographers has resulted in a large number of very important photographs for the more than 36 professionals that took them, but they are especially significant for the history of Kahlo’s artistic production: nearly 800 over more than 40 years. To carry out her work, the researcher collaborated with and had access to the collections of the Frida Kahlo Museum and the National Photography Library of Mexico.
Although she did not take the photographs, Kahlo conceived and planned them. This work of characterizing the artist, which in some cases the UC3M researcher defines as “visual autobiographies,” articulates its own creative discourse which emphasizes the subversion of gender codes through the creative technique of “androgynous estrangement” or reflection on her national identity, the exaltation of popular culture, rural life, and a certain pre-Hispanic syncretism.
Photography or Performance
In pondering her artistic identity, Frida Kahlo presents a key point about artistic production in general: she interprets her profession for the camera in an evidently artificial way, as a “disguised author.” Thus, as professor Limón notes, it poses a question of topicality in the world of contemporary art: Who is the author of the photograph, the one who presses the button on the camera or the one who poses in the image?
The photographs of Kahlo hold a certain performative status. The artist uses her body as a device which allows her to represent herself in different ways, and as a discursive tool for denaturing certain conventions. “In her work, one can appreciate a characteristic rituality of the current performance: the redundancy of her practices, the restaging of her poses, which denatures the everyday action, and the production of a corps of images elevated to a work of art,” said Nieves Limón. Moreover, the artist from Coyoacán stands as “an important and innovative figure who challenges the fundamental theoretical suppositions of autobiographical practices,” occasionally showing her vulnerable corporality. She does so through a strong process-based component in the photography: serial, with narrative potential, multiple quality (collage) and with connections to other compositions. All in all, the photographs of Frida speak to us of her vital experiences: her pain, her relationships and her roles, and it is a privileged medium through which to learn about the human being that was the artist.