Guillermo Kahlo – In His Own Right

Day 172 of Colourisation Project – October 26

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

Little known outside Mexico, German born photographer, Carl Wilhelm (Guillermo) Kahlo’s photos remain a legacy to Mexican art and culture and a frank record of life in Mexico at the turn of the century, that is astonishingly modern in approach. His photography has undergone a reappraisal in recent times gaining a wider audience, due to the phenomenal growth of international interest in his famous daughter, Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo.

Guillermo Kahlo

Self Portrait ~ Guillermo Kahlo 1920 ~ Colourised by Loredana Crupi

Born this day, 26 October 1871, in Germany, Kahlo set sail for Mexico in 1891 at the age of nineteen, following his mother’s death.  His father paid for his passage to Mexico, as he didn’t get on with his new stepmother. In Mexico, he changed his name from Wilhelm to Guillermo and never again returned to Germany.

He found work with other German immigrants. In 1985 he married María Cardena who died three years later in childbirth.  They had two daughters. Soon after he married Matilde Calderón, who encouraged him to take up her father’s line of work, photography. They had four daughters together and lived in Coyoacán.

In 1901 he set up a photographic studio, working for El Mundo Ilustrado and Semanario Ilustrado. Landscape and architectural photography was his main interest.  As the first official photographer of Mexico’s ‘national cultural patrimony, he was commissioned between 1904 -1908 by the government to document Mexico’s colonial architectural patrimony.  It is for this body of work that he is best known.

As  a child, his daughter, Frida used to accompany him as he worked, frequently assisting him in the darkroom. Adored by her father, she was the subject of many of his portraits, just as she was to become the subject of her own paintings. Guillermo Kahlo shared his fascination with the natural world with his daughter through photography, teaching her not only how to use a camera but the craft of re-touching photographic plates as well. Frida however found the work too finicky and preferred to express herself through her painting. Her biographer, Hayden Herrera writes that Frida

“…acknowledged the influence of her father’s professional work on her own only by saying that her paintings were like the photos her father took for calendar illustrations, only instead of painting outer reality she painted the calendars that were inside her head.”

Guillermo Kahlo died of a heart attack in Mexico City in 1941, at the age of 69.

In 1952 Frida painted  her final testament to her father, Portrait of Don Guillermo Kahlo eleven years after his death, and only two years before her own. An inscribed scroll below the painting reads: “I painted my father, …artist-photographer by profession, in character generous, intelligent and fine, valiant because he suffered for sixty years with epilepsy, but he never stopped working and fought against Hitler….with adoration. – His daughter – Frida Kahlo”

Guillermo Kahlo has had several gallery and museum exhibitions, including at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art and at the Museum of Latin American Art, California. In 2011, forty two works under the title, Recuerdo De Mexico y Chapultepec sold for $37,199.

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“If you think that you have inherited from me a dislike for people and a desire to deal with others as little as possible, you may be right. But I can assure you, from all my heart and experience, that with that you have gained a lot. You will not have so-called friends, because they tend to dupe you, but neither will you have enemies. I don’t know which is of the two is more valuable.”  – Guillermo Kahlo in a letter to Frida Kahlo.  (February 5, 1933)

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