Born in Mexico City, Manuel Alvarez Bravo worked for the Mexican Treasury Ministry and studied literature before entering the Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes de San Carlos in 1918. He bought his first camera in 1924, and in 1927, met Tina Modotti, who encouraged him in his work, and urged him to send a portfolio of his prints to Edward Weston for review. Modotti introduced him to the Mexican muralists Diego Rivera, David Siqueiros and José Orozco in 1930, and with their encouragement and Weston's, Alvarez Bravo turned to photography full-time in 1931. In 1938, he met André Breton, who familiarized him with the aesthetics of surrealism and included him in a Surrealist exhibition in Mexico City that year. From 1939 to 1942, Alvarez Bravo operated a commercial photography studio in Mexico City while continuing to produce personal work, which has been exhibited at the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the Museum of Modern Art, ICP, and elsewhere. Alvarez Bravo co-founded the Fondo Editorial de la Plástica Mexicana in 1959 to promote and publish indigenous Mexican art and opened the Museum of Mexican Photography in 1986. He has been recognized with many honors, including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1975 and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the College Art Association in 1996, and ICP's Master of Photography Infinity award in 1987.
Although his work is often associated with surrealism, Alvarez Bravo was not a member of the movement. His photography is deeply rooted in the indigenous culture of Mexico, and his knowledge of Surrealist aesthetics has served mainly to reinforce the exploration of death, earth and violence typical of his native culture. His incisive formal sensibility has reinforced his portrayal of the universal through images of individual people, objects, and places.
Lisa Hostetler Handy et al. Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection, New York: Bullfinch Press in association with the International Center of Photography, 1999, p. 207.