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Graciela Iturbide was born in Mexico in 1942, the eldest of thirteen children. She was exposed to photography early on in life. Her father took pictures of her and her siblings and she got her first camera when she was 11 years old. When she was a child, her father put all the photographs in a box and she said "it was a great treat to go to the box and look at these photos, these memories." She then married the architect Manuel Rocha Díaz in 1962 and had three children over the next eight years. Iturbide's six-year-old daughter, Claudia, died in 1970; after this death she turned to photography. She studied at the Centro Universitario de Estudios Cinematográficos at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, where she met her mentor, the teacher, cinematographer and photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo. She traveled with Bravo and learned that "there is always time for the pictures you want." 

Iturbide photographs everyday life, almost entirely in black-and-white. She was inspired by the photography of Josef Koudelka, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Sebastiao Salgado and Álvarez Bravo. She became interested in the daily life of Mexico's indigenous cultures and has photographed life in Mexico City, Juchitán, Oaxaca and on the Mexican/American border (La Frontera.)

In 1979, Iturbide was asked by painter Francisco Toledo to photograph his village, Juchitán de Zaragoza, where the women were economically, politically, and sexually independent. Interested by the proposal, Iturbide released her first collection, titled "Mujer Ángel" ("Angel Woman") and shot in Mexico's portion of the Sonoran desert. Her first experience as a photographer shaped Iturbide's views on life, making her a strong supporter of feminism. The image of "Mujer Ángel" was used by the politically charged metal group Rage Against The Machine for their single "Vietnow" in 1997.

Nuestra Señora de las Iguanas

Some of the inspiration for her next work came from her support of feminist causes. Her well known collection, "Señora de Las Iguanas", ("Our Lady of the Iguanas") was also shot in Juchitán de Zaragoza. This piece inspired two filmmakers from Los Angeles, Susan Streitfeld and Julie Herbert, who used the photograph as an icon in their 1996 film entitled Female Preservations. Her work in Juchitán was not only about women, however: she also shot "Magnolia", a photo of a man wearing a dress and looking at himself on a mirror. It was "Magnolia" that has led many photography experts to say that Iturbide also explored sexuality among Mexicans with her work.

Iturbide has also photographed Mexican Americans in the White Fence barrio of East Los Angeles as part of the documentary book "A Day in the Life of America" (1987). She has worked in Argentina (during 1996), India (where she shot another well known photo of hers, "Perros Perdidos", or "Lost Dogs"), and the United States, where she did her last known work, an untitled collection of photos shot in Texas.

One of the major concerns in her work has been "to explore and articulate the ways in which a vocable such as 'Mexico' is meaningful only when understood as an intricate combination of histories and practices." 

She is a founding member of the Mexican Council of Photography. Her work has been exhibited internationally and is included in many major museum collections including those of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the J. Paul Getty Museum. The largest collection of original prints in the United States is located at the Wittliff Collections, Texas State University.

She continues to live and work in Coyoacán, Mexico.

She has won the W. Eugene Smith prize for photography (1987), a first prize award from France's Mois de la Photo, and a Guggenheim Fellowship (1988). In 2008 she received the Hasselblad FoundationPhotography Award.

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