Photograph by Graciela Iturbide
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Angel Woman, 1979. From the series "Those Who Live in the Sand."

Photograph by Graciela Iturbide

An Acclaimed Photographer Finds Poetry in the Ordinary

With a curious and compassionate eye, Graciela Iturbide finds compelling moments in her everyday surroundings.

"The camera is just a pretext for knowing the world. " —Graciela Iturbide

Graciela Iturbide has dedicated herself to knowing the world through her camera since the early 1970s. She was a student of cinema in her native Mexico City when she switched to studying photography under the mentorship of Manuel Alvarez Bravo, considered one of the founders of modern photography.

In the late 1970s she began photographing people in her native Mexico—first the Seri Indians in the Sonoran Desert, then the Juchitán people in Oaxaca. She embedded herself in these communities, building a level of complicity between her and her subjects.

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Our Lady of the Iguanas, 1979. From the series "Juchitán."

Her approach is intuitive. Asked what inspires her as a photographer, she replies, "Everything that surprises me in life." She photographs almost exclusively in black and white, using natural light. "I am interested in what my eyes see and what my heart feels," she says in the Art21 series "Investigation."

While this lends a poetic quality to Iturbide's images, she considers all photography to be documentary. It's just that sometimes what you're showing can be poetic, she says, and other times it is a more straightforward testimony.

Her personal connection to the world around her has most recently manifested itself in photographs of landscapes—abstractions of trees, vines, and animal skulls tucked into the crook of a tree branch, where the human impact is felt but not seen. "All that surrounds us is life, so I am very interested in both human beings and nature as the same thing, because we humans, we are not able to live without nature," she says.

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Cemetery. From the series "Birds." 

These images have recently been curated into an exhibit called "Naturata," currently on display at the Look3 Festival of the Photograph in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The idea for this originated with a visit to a botanical garden in Oaxaca, Mexico, in the early 1990s."It caught my eye how the gardeners who looked after [the plants], put the veils, ties, and in this way I felt that these were plants in therapy. I have gone back to the botanical garden, and now those plants are wonderful." Traveling to the U.S. and Italy after that, she began keeping an eye out for other plants in a healing or transformation process, something that she finds, she says, "very powerful and very human."

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Eyes to Fly With, 1991. From the series "Birds."

"Naturata" will be on exhibit through July 22 in Charlottesville, Virginia, as part of the Look3 Festival of the Photograph. You may see more of Iturbide's work on her website.

Alexa Keefe is a Senior Photo Editor for National Geographic