Heladio Vera Trejo, the photographic editor for Las Soldaderas, selected the photographs in this book from the vast archives of Mexico’s Fototeca Nacional in Pachuca. The goal of Fototeca is to collect and preserve Mexico’s photographic legacy. Most, but not all, of the photographs in this book come from a subset of Fototeca’s archives: the Casasola Collection. This is no coincidence. The Casasola Collection, by dint of its size and stature, has developed a near monopoly on the iconography of the Mexican Revolution.
The Mexican government purchased the Casasola Collection in 1976 from the heirs of Agustín Victor Casasola. An institution in the United States had sought to acquire the collection, but the Mexican government stepped in with its own proposal as part of its efforts to keep its cultural legacy inside the country. The photographs in the archive cover the period from the dawn of the century to 1972, but the photographs documenting the Mexican Revolution are its heart and soul.
The importance of these images, however, has been neglected. Historian David Romo points out that Susan Sontag wrongly regarded the Spanish Civil War as the first war to be widely documented by modern photography. In her book On Photography Sontag states that governments had kept a tight reign on photographers during the American Civil War and later (post-Mexican Revolution) during World War I, limiting their access to the battlefront. Ignoring the Mexican Revolution, Sontag saw the Spanish Civil War as the first conflict to allow all access passes to photojournalists. But Romo argues that the Mexicans had the Spaniards beat by a couple of decades. Photographers had nearly unfettered access to the Mexican Revolution. Indeed, leaders on both sides of the war saw the propaganda value in the evolving technologies of journalism. They invited photographers and film makers to the war, even scheduling battles and executions so that the events could be recorded.
And there were plenty of photographers eager to cover the war. Heavy international interest in the revolution fueled a lucrative newspaper market for pictures of the action. Into this market stepped Agustín Victor Casasola, a former typographer and sports writer. Casasola and his brother Miguel founded one of the very first photographic agencies to take advantage of interest in the Mexican Revolution. Some observers say that Agustín was also a skilled cameraman. But it’s hard to say for sure because Agustín had a habit of buying the work of other photographers, scraping their name off and selling the photographs under his name. True to form, Agustín promptly sent his brother off to the warfront. Agustín himself spent most of the war in the Mexico City, safely away from the fighting, scratching his brother’s name off of photos and selling them as his own.
That’s more work than it sounds like. The modern day collection in Pachuca contains more than 760,000 prints and negatives, with over 30,000 images of the revolution by several hundred photographers. From his office in Mexico City, Agustín organized the Mexican and foreign photographers to cover the important events of the revolution. Aside from his brother, Agustín bought pictures from Jimmy Hare, Hugo Breheme and Manuel Ramos, among other. He even bought up whole newspaper archives as he did when El Imparcial, the first paper he worked for, went out of business.
The result of all this collecting is an incredible wealth of visual history about the Mexican Revolution. Casasola’s peculiar style of collecting will provide research material for scholars for years to come, as they try to untangle the myths that Casasola and others built up around the collection as well as the historical facts behind the photographs. As researchers pursue this work, the photographs in the collection will continue to provide a rich testament to the men and women that fought and suffered in the Mexican Revolution.
You can read more about the Casasola Collection here.
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