Author: Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902-2002)
Medium: Gelatin silver print
Location: J. Paul Getty Museum
This photograph of an optician’s shop and oval hanging sign, taken from the perspective of a pedestrian looking up, plays a trick on the viewer. By flipping the negative and producing reversed text, Manuel Álvarez Bravo called into question the accuracy of vision. Images of the human eye reiterate the theme of looking.
Although the name La Óptica Moderna means “the modern optician’s shop,” Álvarez Bravo recognized that these words imply “the modern viewpoint” [another meaning of the word óptica is point of view; for example, desde esta óptica = from this point of view]. The photograph’s title, Parábola óptica, compounds this wordplay. Parábola both suggests the shape of something and alludes to parable, a story with multiple meanings. Álvarez Bravo thus crafted a modern parable about the shapes we see and the meanings we attach to them.