It's a little-known fact about Mexican writer Juan Rulfo, best known for his magical realist novel Pedro Páramo, that he was also a talented photographer who, from the 1940s onwards, captured the buildings, towns and landscapes of his native country with his Rolleiflex camera. Twenty-five images from his 6,000-strong archive - the earliest of which is a self-portrait taken in 1940 in San Gabriel, the Jalisco town where he went to live with his grandmother after the death of his parents - are now on display in Solo son imágenes: 25 fotografías de Juan Rulfo (or, They are only images: 25 photos by Juan Rulfo), an exhibition that will run until May 22 at Madrid's Fnac Callo. Rulfo's hobby was never a secret. From 1949 he published images in the literary magazine América and in the 1950s and 1960s his photos featured in publications such as Mexico This Month.
"It wasn't a secondary activity for him, but rather existed alongside literature," says Víctor Jiménez, director of the Juan Rulfo Foundation.
Rulfo's library included 700 volumes on photography, the oldest dating from the 1930s. It's possible, Jiménez suspects, that Rulfo was a photographer before he was writer. His short story collection El Llano en llamos (or, The Burning Plain and Other Stories) was not published until 1953, while Pedro Páramo came out in 1955 and he finished his second novel, El gallo de oro (or, The Golden Cockerel), in 1958. Around 1960, his literary and photography work took a back seat in favor of the publishing he was involved in at the National Indigenist Institute until his death in 1960.
The curators of the exhibition, Andrew Dempsey and Daniele de Luigi, immersed themselves in the negatives to choose a hundred for the book 100 fotografías de Juan Rulfo (or, 100 photographs by Juan Rulfo), which was published at the end of 2010. The 25 images in the show are all included in the book.
Architectural images are particularly prevalent - over half of Rulfo's archive is devoted to this theme. Jiménez remembers that, as a recent architecture graduate, he charged him with working on his house. "One day he appeared at the studio with a shoebox full of negatives of buildings," says Jiménez. "I realized he had an eye for photographing architecture, which has its difficulties; for instance, avoiding deforming the buildings, or joining the roofs..."
As well as the book and the exhibition, the foundation wants to mark the 25th anniversary of Rulfo's death by reissuing a book that brings together El Llano en llamos, Pedro Páramo and the short story Castillo de Teayo with previously published introductions by Gabriel García Márquez, Jorge Luis Borges and Susan Sontag. It has also published a revised edition of El gallo de oro, the short novel adapted into a film by García Márquez and Carlos Fuentes in 1965.
Solo son imágenes: 25 fotografías de Juan Rulfo. Until May 22 at Fnac Callao, C/ Preciados 28, Madrid.