Few places in the world remain both unexplored and unfamiliar to people. One such place is rural Mexico, an area that is rapidly changing and rarely seen by outsiders. Fortunately, the photography of Juan Rulfo (1917–86) offers a unique glimpse into rural Mexico. With images that rely heavily on symbolism, objects that take on animalistic shapes, and settings that illustrate the nobility of women, Rulfo’s photography is both humble and majestic.
To coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of his internationally renowned novel, Pedro Páramo, as well as the twentieth anniversary of his death, Photographing Silence: Juan Rulfo’s Mexico, an exhibit of sixty-two black-and-white silver gelatin prints, was displayed at BYU’s Museum of Art (MOA). On loan from the Juan Rulfo Foundation (Fundación Juan Rulfo), the prints are a small sample of the thousands of photographs taken by Rulfo throughout his life.
The exhibit features photographs taken in rural Mexico throughout the 1940s and 1950s, although there are a few urban images. Rulfo’s photographs juxtapose man-made materials, such as houses and cathedrals, against the background of natural elements. They also explore the contrast between old and new and dark and light. The majority of his work focused on images from rural communities, as he strived to observe their lives. He avoided idealizing his subjects, as he was interested in depicting their lives exactly as they were. Through the honest portrayal of his subjects, Rulfo demonstrated his interest in humanity, architecture, and religiosity.