Guillermo Kahlo (1872–1941), the German-born father of artist Frida Kahlo, devoted his career to capturing, in silver gelatin prints, the urban environment of Mexico during its turn-of-the-century boom. He began his career as a photographer working for commercial clients, who asked him to document the major buildings and boulevards of Mexico City. He went on to do his most important work at the behest of the Mexican government, recording through the symbolism of architecture both the nation's progress and the legitimacy of President Porfirio Diaz's regime.
The Ministry of Finance commissioned Kahlo to create an exhaustive survey, the Photographic Inventory of Spanish Colonial Church Architecture of Mexico. Decades in the making, the Photographic Inventory remains Kahlo's most important contribution to Mexican culture. The photographer limited himself to only one exterior and one interior of each subject, but nonetheless managed to fill six volumes.
Kahlo's church images are devoid of people but rich in detail–testaments to the deeply graven façades and altars of the indigenous Baroque style. New York art dealer Spencer Throckmorton, whose gallery has uncovered a cache of rarely available prints, applauds Kahlo for “very well thoughtout angles,” which exploited the central axis of a design while using asymmetry to convey depth. Kahlo often shot from above, which allowed him to reveal hidden details from a powerful, almost heavenly, perspective.
Sightings of Kahlo's work are rare. The bound copies of the Photographic Inventory remain mostly in the possession of Mexican museums. The Mexican government has so far not exploited the commercial potential of reproductions, which the dealer suggests “would be a great source of revenue.”
The price of architectural history: $1,500 to $2,000 at Throckmorton Fine Art in New York. Bargain hunters shopping eBay this summer bid $255 for a 1907 bank photo, but failed to meet the reserve.
OBJECT Vintage prints
ARTIST Guillermo Kahlo
DATE Circa 1920