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Somebody had to take the picture

28 April 2013

I’ve written about this photograph before, which received several comments, mostly supporting my contention that it is a doctored photo.  While perhaps not quite the intention of one correspondent, who seemed to dismiss the idea that this was a propaganda photo (and not a historical document), I appreciate his taking the time to write me with definitive information about this iconic work.

While the earliest printings I can find are from Spain, my correspondent was right: the photographer was a Mexican, Manuel Ramos Sánchez (1874-1945). Relatively forgotten until recently, Ramos’ work had been displayed at the Museo de la Ciudad de México in early 2012 where my correspondent saw it. Which does not mean it wasn’t a manipulated propaganda photo. On the contrary, it was Ramos’ work as a propagandist that makes his work interesting to us today. In the words of the collection’s editor, Elia del Carmen Ramírez:

He was not afraid to experiment as a photographer. Regardless of beliefs or political opinions, [what’s remarkable is that] he presented the idea of ​​the image not as a document but as a creation. That’s pioneering photomontage, we are talking about the pre photoshop: he sought the ideal image and therefore did not care if he broke up the essential structure of the picture.

He was a militant Catholic, not merely a believer. His devotion led him to join the Cristero army, perhaps not with gun in hand, but with his camera. One of his great documents comes directly from within the Cristro movement, which he understood as a legitimate defense of his perspective…

On a secondary matter, my correspondent thought I erred in assuming the spelling of Mexico as “Mejico”  did not mean the photo wasn’t of Mexican origin. As it was, the copy of the photo I used was printed in Spain, but he is right that the Castilian variant “Mejico” is used in Mexico.  He thought it was common, and as proof, offered up the 1960 edition of “Mejico Cristero” by Antonio Rius Fascius.   Which only proves that it’s used in a very limited sense in Mexico.

In an undated interview by Luis Humberto Espinosa Díaz for the Autonomous University of Guadalajara’s Centro de Estudios Cristero Ancleto Gonzalés Flores, Ruis makes a point of not only referring to himself as the son of Spaniards, but of writing “Mejico Cristero” as a defence of “Hispano-Catholic culture” (“Me propuse recuperar la cultura hispano-católica…“) and of his intentions, in that book, of revitalizing the “cultural traditions of Mexico, to which Mexico has historically conformed” (“En este sentido, mi libro Méjico Cristero trató de ser la revitalización de la cultura tradicional de México, con la cual México se había conformado históricamente.” Note the spelling of the country’s name).

Perhaps, half right.  The copy of the photo I posted came from a set of cards published in Barcelona.  The only other spellings of Mexico as “Mejico” I was I could find from Mexican sources outside of references to anything later than about 1880 were in  Cristero studies or defenses of Franciso Franco… or both … in which the author — like Ruis — sought to explicitly identify Mexican culture to Iberian traditions.

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