At a lecture in Seattle many years ago, photographer Graciela Iturbide talked about the commitment it took to photograph people. For “Images of the Spirit,” (Aperture, 1996), she traveled throughout her native Mexico, often staying in the communities she documented over several months or sometimes years. When asked what project she was working on next, she said birds. She needed to take a break from people.
Lucky for us, the break wasn’t exactly permanent. Her latest book, “No Hay Nadie, There Is No One,” presents a quiet meditation on humanity through the imprints people leave behind. It is an interesting approach to photographing India, the second most populous country on the planet.
Unlike the work of Raghubir Singh, Steve McCurry and others who have trained their lens on the diverse peoples of India, Iturbide’s images are not of streets and temples bustling with crowds of colorfully clad people. Her serene black and white images reference them: a simple bowl framed by stones, the beggar; dozens of shoes nailed to a wall, the cobbler; dangling prosthetics, the disabled; handprints smeared on to a door, people wanting passage to nirvana.
The accompanying essay, “Appearances Don’t Deceive,” by Oscar Pujol, provides a thought-provoking context to these haunting images. He writes, according to the Vedas, the Hindu’s sacred scripture:
“The world is eternal. …. Its inhabitants come and go, leaving tracks as if they were leftover food. Narrators, like crows, devote themselves to looking at these tracks, rummaging in them in search of food for their art. Idle by experience, they look for nourishment in an abandoned landscape. …Nothing lies behind the images: only a pulsation. It is enough. The landscape does not demand figures; like a handless glove, it reveals the fingers by their absence.”
Iturbide’s photographs reveal so much with so little, and allow the viewer to ponder the self instead of individuals. This collection serves as a kind of continuation of her earlier book, “Images of the Spirit,” but this time, it’s not of a specific people, but of humanity.