Manuel Carrillo spent much of
his last decade of his life fretting about what would become of
after his death. He wrote to friends in EL Paso a year before his
death: "I always hoped that my work will go to some institution
in the United States because I know it will continue circulating."
Manuel Carrillo, who was affectionately called "EL Maestro Mexicano" by his friends and critics from both sides of the border, was an individual of great commitment to the people and culture he so passionately identified with as his own..."Mi Pueblo." Carrillo's photographic work serves as an important social documentation and interpretation of Mexican Culture from the positioning of post-Revolutionary Mexico searching for its own identity. Through understanding a universal connection of a shared human experience, as interpreted in his depictions of daily life in rural Mexico, Carrillo's poetic interpretations emphasized his preoccupation with man's relationship to nature. This insight reveals his classical style as a modernist in search of a unified, National Mexican identity. Carrillos visual voice thus reveals... the voice of a common people.
Much of what has been said and written about the work of Manuel Carrillo, throughout the span of his photographic career, often times misinforms one into believing his form of style romanticizes the very subject matter he aims to liberate. To describe Carrillo's imagery and style from this standpoint underestimates the artists initial intent for tribute and celebration to the human spirit in general. The unique vision of this visual poet is testimony to the historical and social references that inform his imagery. Carrillo was heavily influenced by American Modernist photographers and artists of his time such as Ansel Adams, Edward Steichen, Edward Weston, Paul Strand, and others that inspired and informed the aesthetics and politics of his photographic work. Manuel Carrillos relationship to his subject matter is a position based on his own cultural identity as a Mexican by birth and an American by processes of binational crossings that led to his induction as an honorary citizen of EL Paso, Texas in 1980 by the Photographic Society of America. This position allowed him to move in and out of fixed constructs of identity that may have otherwise limited his visual interpretations.
Born in Mexico City in 1906, Manuel Carrillos destiny as interpreter of his own people would not be revealed until almost half a century later. At the age of 16, in 1922 Carrillo left Mexico for New York where he pursued several odd jobs before becoming an Arthur Murray waltz and tango champion. During this period in New York, he settled down to work for the Wall Street firm of Neuss Hesslein and Co., but in 1930 he returned to his beloved Mexico. There he began working for one of the pioneers of the Mexican tourist industry Albert L. Bravo. Carrillo later abandoned that position to become the general agent for the Illinois Central Railroads office in Mexico City, where he stayed for thirty-six years, until his retirement (reference to the recruitment of Mexican Nationals to come to el Norte and work on railroads and in developing industries of Midwest and East). At the age of 49, he joined the Club Fotografico de Mexico and the Photographic Society of America, thus launching his career in Photography. His first international exhibition, titled, Mi Pueblo (My People), was held in 1960 at the Chicago Public Library and depicted daily life in rural Mexico. Since 1975, Carrillos work has been seen in 209 individual exhibitions and 27 groups exhibits in Mexico, the United States, and around the world. His work has been published in a variety of photographic anthologies and journals. Carrillo died in Mexico City in 1989 at the age of 83.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: I would like to thank the University of Texas at El Paso Library's Special Collections Director Claudia Rivers for working with me to bring Manuel Carrillo's wonderful imagery to light in a virtual exhibition experience. I thank Ms. Rivers for her patience and trust in me to work on this collection. Many thanks goes to Samuel Cisneros, Special Collections Department Digitial Technician, for your help retrieving and scanning images for the collection. I would also like to thank the Smithsonian Center for Latino Initiatives for their interest and support in collaborating on this project, in particular, Refugio Rochin, Director; and Magdalena Mieri, Programs Manager and Virtual Gallery Director. I would like to give a special thanks to Magdalena Mieri for allowing me the space, opportunity, and freedom to expand as an artist. Also, many thanks to the following for their support and interest in my work: UTEP President Diana Natalicio; Florence Schwein,UTEP Centennial Museum director; UTEP Special Collections staff; Steven Best, UTEP professor of Philosophy and Cultual Studies; UTEP MAIS Graduate committee for preparing me for this endeavor; Henry Ingle, UTEP Director of Distance Learning; Claudia Dominguez, UTEP Distance Learning; Eduardo Barrera, Professor of Communications and Cultrual Studies; Loretta L. Rodriguez, HR Consultant; Gil Cardenas (SCLI); Mardella Abeyta, SCLI Alumni; SCLI staff; Laura Ortiz, research consultant, and copy editor:) (SCLI); and special thanks to my family for their continued love and support. A very special thanks to Mathew McElroy, Technical Staff Associate for Technology and Distance Learning/UTEP,thanks so very much for your time and layout/design consultations! (Guest curator, virtual exhibition designer: Melissa A. Carrillo, Smithsonian Center for Latino Initiatives)Email: Luminare7@aol.com
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