Luz, más luz! The return of a Latin American master to MAMU

One of the founding fathers of Latin American photography, Leo Matiz (1917 – 1998), returns to the Banco de la República’s main cultural exhibition space Museo de Arte Miguel Urrutia MAMU, in an exhibition titled Luz, más luz! – Light, more light!

Matiz’s career as a portraitist, commercial photographer and photojournalist spanned much of the 20th century, and many of his black and white images are housed in the central bank’s permanent art collection. Even though Light, more light! is not a retrospective, it does evoke passages in the life of a visual pioneer who was born in the same town as Colombia’s literature Nobel Laureate Gabriel García Márquez – Aracataca.

Capturing the daily life of the rural Colombia, from fishermen casting nets into the Magdalena River to the rickety traveling circuses at the heart of the Márquez’s fictional Macondo, Matiz, equipped with a twin-reflex Rollei, was an eloquent storyteller and mas- ter technician of the darkroom process. From his first photographs inspired by the documentary force of Luis Benito Ramos to abstract compositions commissioned for large industrial firms later in a prolific career, Matiz combined printing with an artistic narrative, converting him into one of the most sought after photographers in Latin America.

As part of the sixty year celebration of Colombia’s largest public library Biblioteca Luis Ángel Arango administered by the Banco de la Repuública, Luz, más luz! delves into the life of a photographer who published his first picture back in 1939, at age 20, thanks to camera on loan by Enrique Santos Castillo, director of Colombia’s daily El Tiempo. Even though, Matiz aspired to become a caricaturist, his humane approach

to photographing ordinary people would later go on to catch the attention of magazine editors around the world, and his pictures published in LIFE, Reader’s Digest and Harper’s.

From his beginnings on the Co- lombian coast, immersed in a rich vi- sual landscape that inspired many of his most iconic images to his years in Mexico, where he worked as a studio assistant to Manuel Alvárez Bravo (1902 -2002), who is considered the most important figure in 20th-century Latin American photography, Matiz found himself in a country of revolu- tionary sentiment and hotbed of social upheaval. His eye would document the forced-labor of Mexico City seam- stresses, the misery of railroad workers, and most tormented artistic couple in Latin America, Frida Kahlo and muralist Diego Rivera. “I wanted to be a writer or a painter and became a photographer. But, I have been an artist. In the hands of an artisan, photography is just a trade. But, in the hands of an artist, it is an art,” Matiz once said.

Matiz’s images can be understood not only as works of art, but a testimony of the cultural and political forces reshaping Latin America. In order to establish a timeframe that covers most of the 19th century, the museum incorporated sculptures and paintings by other contemporary artists, among them Ignacio Gómez Jaramillo, Fernando Botero, Omar Rayo, Jesús Soto, Carlos Cruz-Diez and Julio Le Parc.

Matiz would often set aside his camera to work as a curator with painters that were projecting themselves internationally. In 1951, Matiz held the first exhibition of the Colombian painter Fernando Botero in Bogotá at his Galeria de Arte Foto-Estudio Leo Matíz. The exhibition included 25 works by the up and coming artist, among them watercolors, drawings and oil paintings. The following summer, Matiz held a second exhibition of Botero’s work.

As a master of symmetry and precision, Matiz challenged the status quo with his camera, often accompanying workers on assembly lines in factories and unionists as they marched for better living conditions. Even though he experienced the dark days of Colombia’s La Violencia, with its deep-rooted political hatreds, Matiz’s visual language has more in common with the familiar moments of France’s Cartier-Bresson than the war images of another contemporary Robert Capa (1913-1954).

Matiz’s travels continued around the continent for 30 years until in 1979, while walking through downtown Bogotá, with camera in hand, a thief accosted him and took his left eye in the attack. After this tragic incident that robbed the artist of his “camera eye,” Matiz dedicated the next two decades to exhibiting his pictures in the world’s most important art venues.

As part of MAMU’s commitment to exhibit works by great masters, Luz, más luz! sheds light on the compassionate eye of a photographer who made black and white a powerful expression in art.

Museo de Arte Miguel Urrutia – MAMU

Calle 11 No.4-21. Free admission.