El Soñador

Artist: Manuel Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902–2002)

Date: 1931

Medium: Gelatin silver print

Dimensions: 12.3 x 16.9 cm (4 13/16 x 6 5/8 in.)

Classification: Photographs

Credit Line: Gilman Collection, Purchase, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Gift, 2005

Accession Number: 2005.100.301


"When will we have sleeping logicians, sleeping philosophers? I would like to sleep, in order to surrender myself to the dreamers....," wrote André Breton in the first Surrealist manifesto of 1924. Alvarez Bravo, a compatriot of Breton and the Surrealists in Mexico City during the 1920s and '30s (although he was not an official member of the movement), made photographs that consistently seem to conjure Breton's wish. His deep appreciation for the folklore and popular history of his native country-in which common objects were often imbued with a mystical symbolism of life and death and daily situations could easily assume political significance-produced moving images that seem to bask in sensuality while maintaining a connection to the intellectual process of metaphor. In this photograph, these seemingly paradoxical elements are solidly in evidence. Alvarez Bravo wrote of it: "There at number 20 Calle de Guatemala, I saw many things that marked me forever. I walked a lot through the adjoining streets; I especially liked to watch the customs porters in Santiago Tlatelolco station, who after work would fall asleep exhausted on the sidewalk. I felt great compassion for them. … I am happy to have lived in those streets. There everything was food for my camera, everything had an inherent social content; in life everything has social content." His ability to render in this image Mexican life's visceral confluence of pleasure, exhaustion, vulnerability, and reverie at the intersection of everyday life and the world of dreams is exceptional.