Preserving Rivera and Kahlo

Preserving Rivera and Kahlo

colaboración para la revista Future Anterior, vol VI, n1, summer 2009

This text analyzes the complicated relationship between photography and preservation, using the studio-residence of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in Mexico City as a case study. The house, designed by architect Juan O’Gorman in the early 1930s, was documented in celebrated photographs, and these photographs have become a major and often contradictory preservation tool against surviving architectural records, which function as a parallel and perhaps less authentic history for conservators. Tárrago Mingo argues that preservation’s reliance on photography as an inherent truthful index of the past should be questioned, lest photographs be preserved rather than buildings.

Several photographs taken in July 1932 by Guillermo Kahlo upon the completion of work on the houses and studios of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo —daughter of the photographer— were used for its reconstruction, which began in 1995 under the supervision of the architect Víctor Jiménez. The houses were reconstructed as closely as possible to the original photographs, because there were few perspectives or blueprints of the structures and installations in the archives of architect Juan O’Gorman. As Jiménez remarks, «the principal source of its reconstruction were seven pictures taken by [Guillermo] Kahlo the day it was completed, and three more taken later, in 1934, just after the houses had been furnished by its inhabitants.» There are, however, many other pictures in which the couple pose or are pictured working in their house and studio.

The documentary and indicial value of photography —one of the medium’s fundamental characteristics— is undeniable as a primary source in the reconstruction of architectural space. Jiménez assured that, «thanks to photographic documentation, [the restoration] achieved a ‘close to a 98%’ faithful recuperation of the original space.» However, the evolution of mechanical means of representation, foremost among them photography, holds inherent contradictions, as Palaia Pérez and Casar Pinazo have pointed out: «in the same way that they lose subjectivity being closer to technological procedures, they gain in apparent objectivity,» although these indicators of objectivity «may not, in any way guarantee the transmission of all the values that the object holds.» Because of this, we could ask ourselves if we can, and even if we should, reconstruct through photographs the atmosphere transmitted by dozens of images that show us everyday, intimate scenes —that is, all the things that the images of Kahlo do not say…


Título: Preserving Rivera and Kahlo: Photography and Reconstruction
Edita: Future Anterior, vol VI, n.1, summer 2009, University of Minnesota Press, p.50-67.
ISSN: 1549-9715
Autor: Jorge Tárrago