By Michelle Chaplow
Reflections on the very personal portraits of Frida Khalo by documentary photographer, Leo Martiz
Photographer Leo Martiz was born in Colombia in 1917; he was brought up in Bogota and worked as a photojournalist for the national newspaper El Tiempo.
Outside of work he would spend time in the bohemian cafes of the Colombian capital, a place to mingle with the vanguard of the day and learned about modern intellectual ideas.
Martiz gained a reputation as a passionate and sensitive photojournalist. Like many photographers, Martiz loved to travel and moved to Mexico, between 1940 and 1948 he developed a close friendship with the contemporary artist Frida Kahlo, who at the age of twenty, married fellow artist Diego Rivera. The relationship between Kahlo and Rivera was a turbulent and intense one, partly due to Rivera’s infidelities, and both were in the spotlight of the world art scene.
In 1948 Martiz worked as a photojournalist in New York for Life Magazine and also covered the Middle East conflict for the United Nations.
In his personal series of Frida Khalo at home there are no restrictions, no adhering to editorial guidelines. Leo Martiz created images that are powerful in their simplicity, documenting the private life, of artist Frida Khalo.
Frida Khalo in her garden, Xochmilco, Mexico 1941
The beauty of the image is the intimacy of the frame, Frida is at one with nature, simply lying on the lawn in her own garden, shielding her eyes from the sunshine, one of those ideal summer days and Leo captures Frida, lying down the image taken at the same angle, both the photographer and subject touching the earth. He also documents the interplay of light and shade. Leo Martiz chooses a close up frame, the viewer can identify with those blissful moments of a person at home in peace.
Frida was a public figure from and early age, the image transmits a relaxed peaceful state, she is totally relaxed with both Leo and his camera, it is almost as if the camera is not there, we step right into her world. The delicate flowers in her hair and the embroidery on her shirt underline her femininity. This is a lady who in another stage of her life cut off her hair and adorned masculine suits. Leo is there with Frida in the intimacy of her own home capturing the almost authentic Frida, through the eyes of a friend, far away from her public life.
At the tender age of 18, Frida was involved in a terrible bus crash and she spent many months bedridden, unable to move and in agonizing pain, during the course of her life. . Martiz captures the same angle from her bed looking up, so that we can see what Frida saw, in the intimacy of her bedroom. We can only imagine the long hours Frida would spend looking up from the wooden four-poster bed, observing family portraits and various Mexican artifacts.
Frida led a very bohemian, passionate life and fought for what were considered at the time radical causes –she was an atheist communist and a feminist, a highly unusual mix in early 20th-century Mexico – yet at home she was a different person, and these images open our eyes to her private personal space where those very solitary moments are captured.
We are privileged to see these images via the documentary work of Leo Martiz.
Thought provoking images, that will be preserved for the future, taking the viewer behind the scenes into the privacy of Frida Kahlo’s bedroom.
The work of Leo Martiz is a fine example of documentary photography literally writing the story with his imagery.
Photo Source –Exhibition catalogue
“Frida Kahlo. Photographs by Leo Matiz in the Blue House.”
At the Térmica Malaga, Spain.