The photo collection of Manuel Carrillo – one of Mexico’s most influential photographers – resides at UTEP’s Special Collections Department and his work is often compared to that of famed American icon Ansel Adams despite both photographers being widely known for different types of photography.
Carrillo focused on photographing the people of Mexico, while Adams concentrated on landscapes, but both were wildly influential, said David Flores, UTEP’s photo archivist.
“Carrillo was passionate about the people (of Mexico) who worked for a living, showcasing his gente (people) in a humbling light with his photographs,” Flores said.
The collection, containing about 14,000 negatives, 10,000 prints, 3,00 slides and seven linear feet of papers, also contains numerous publications with Carrillo’s work or biographical information, according to Flores who dealt with the images first-hand. The collection also includes many awards and trophies, while the prints vary in many sizes from contact sheets to giant mural-sized enlargements.
“It’s incredibly deep, it resonates the golden era of Mexico and the character and identity your Mexico and its people at that time, I’m in a very beautiful poetic way,” said Joel Salcido, a photojournalist based in San Antonio and a former photographer for the El Paso Times.
Some of Carrillo’s work is featured in an exhibit called Carrillo in Color – a photography exhibit with never-before-seen images in color at the library
“This exhibit shows some of the range of the photographer and I hope that seeing the photos that are in color will stimulate interest in Carrillo’s work and also different ways of seeing his work,” said Claudia Rivers, UTEP’s head of Special Collections.
Carrillo was known for capturing Mexico’s culture from 1955 to the 1980s before his death in 1989. All of his photographs projected life of the Mexican people, animals, sights from towns and villages and anything that caught Carrillo’s eye.
The Mexican photographer prominently shot in black and white. But Flores, who got to work with the photos first hand had stumbled upon Carrillo’s collection in a box in storage, found photo negatives of Carrillo’s work in color.
“The subject matter, the black and white it’s more people, places, the animals and Mexico, Flores said. “With his color, it’s more things that he was interested. “With his black and white, he’s telling the story. In color, his shooting those things to get his attention.”
Carrillo’s work portrays Mexico in a way that contrasts to current rhetoric about “bad hombres” and border security.
“I’m very unhappy with the way Hispanics are portrayed,” Flores said. “When I see these images. I know that we’re not that way. And these pictures clearly show, the honesty and the integrity of the people.”
The photographs displayed show kids being kids, women living their best life, compositions of the beautiful landscape Mexico have to offer, and so much more of the Mexican culture.
“Most people that he photographed represents the descendants of Mexicans nowadays, so it gives us a new perspective as to how we perceive Mexicans from that purity of his photography,” Salcido said. “Which is very important, especially nowadays it is incredibly important that we perceive our neighbors from that perspective with a lot of empathy, humanity and dignity and that’s exactly what Miguel Carrillo did, which is incredibly important.”
Salcido, 61, has always been fascinated of Carrillo’s work. He said he believes Carrillo doesn’t get the credit he deserves on the international and national level in contemporary times compared to another well-known Mexican photographer such as Manuel Bravo. Salcido has never gotten to see all of Carrillo’s work and says the work on display is a small representation of the collection.
Carrillo’s collection was purchased by UTEP and the University of Texas Sytem in 1990. Carrillo began looking for a home for his work several years before his death. Although he was a native of Mexico, Carrillo had strong ties with El Paso so he and a couple of his friends approached UTEP about acquiring his collection. Negotiations were still ongoing at the time of Carrillo’s death, the university was able to purchase the collection form his widow Consuela.
“I think it’s a very important step towards continuing in a very deliberate and visionary way to expose his entire work, we only have seen the tip of the iceberg,” Salcido said. “So, I’ve always been curious as to what the rest of the archive hold, it’s got to be a treasure of important images and photographs, that at least I myself, I’m hungry to see.”
In order to fully bring the colored negatives that were found in boxes to life, current technology and photo development process was used to develop and enhance the colors of Carrillo’s negatives. The photos were then printed on metal sheets to give the photographs more detail.
“His work is packed with dignity and impurity and poetry that I can that doesn’t resonate with me that I can definitely identify with not only because I’m a photographer but also because I am the Mexican,” Salcido said.