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New Getty exhibit examines Mexican Revolution's impact

View of Getty's
View of Getty's "A Nation Emerges" exhibit
Kevin Ferguson

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Just last week the Getty opened its newest exhibit at Downtown L.A.'s Central Library. It's called "A Nation Emerges" and it examines the 100-year-old Mexican Revolution through photographs, posters and timelines. Off-Ramp toured the exhibit with Getty Curator Beth Guynn, who assembled the exhibition.

The Mexican Revolution began with the election of reformer Francisco Madero to the presidency, and ended with over 2 million lives lost. It was a 10-year struggle where power constantly shifted hands, allegiances redefined and slowly, a nation emerged. But to the Guynn, the exhibit is even more than that:

"To me this is really the first major example of war photography," she said. "There was a major presence of journalists and photojournalists. This is what--as Susan Sontag called--the first instance of our 'camera mediated knowledge of war.'"

Guynn believes that unlike the Civil War, where many battle photos were staged, photographers during the Mexican Revolution recorded some of the first real-time war photography. The exhibition features work from photographers both professional and amateur. One of the first photos is a postcard taken by a tourist from Maine — postcards were a popular way to print photos in that time — of a battle near Matamoros.

The exhibit features more than just photographs: Along one wall you can find a Broadside: one-sided sheets of paper sometimes posted on walls. They often carried a political connotation, like "El Mosquito Americano," which -- through insect allegory -- indicts American investors as exploitive and allegiance-less opportunists taking advantage of Mexico's vast natural resources and infrastructure.

President Francisco Madero lost power in 1913 during a bloody coup in Mexico City now known as "La decena tragica." Civilians and soldiers alike lost their lives in the battle: evidence of the horror is seen in shots of dead on the streets, bedrooms blown out by firearms and multitudes of Mexicans displaced by the fighting and traveling with their mattresses on their back.

The exhibit also includes photographs of women and children who fought in the struggles, little known snapshots of icons like Emiliano Zapata, Pancho Villa, classic and contemporary posters. You can see it for free at the Central Library in Downtown L.A. The exhibit is open through June 3, 2012.