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Mariana Yampolsky was one of the major figures in 20th-century Mexican photography, specializing in capturing photos of common people in everyday situations in the rural areas of the country. She was born in the United States but came to Mexico to study art and never left, becoming a Mexican citizen in 1958. Her career in photography began as a sideline to document travels and work in the arts and politics but she began showing her photography in the 1960s. From then until her death in 2002, her work was exhibited internationally receiving awards and other recognition both during her lifetime and posthumously.

Her influences as a photographer include Tina Modotti, Manuel and Lola Álvarez Bravo, Nacho López and Héctor García. The classic division of Mexican art into pre Hispanic, colonial and post Independence periods appears frequently in her work along with classic Mexican images such as cacti, agave plants, horses, field workers, masks, women working and skulls with themes such as scarcity, death and poverty.

Most of her work focused on rural life in Mexico in the 20th century.  It focuses on common people, which was not fashionable at the time. Yampolsky is quoted as saying that her art reflects “… moments, in the lives of people that others perhaps don’t see or don’t value.” Her work shows the influence of her professors, the Bravos, as they show pride in the indigenous flora and people of the land, with frequent reference to the dignity of agrarian work. Her work is part of the Mexican photographic tradition of documenting the complexity of Mexican culture, including the negative aspects such as poverty, disease, resignation and lack of sanitation. Her photographs are not staged. She convinced people to go about their normal lives as she photographed. These photographs reflect her family’s global humanism and anthropological background with important examples being The Exterminating Angel (1991); Waiting for the Priest (1987); Orange Stand (1969); Stacked Piñata Pots (1988) and Jailhouse Patio (1987), with the aim of showing the various causes and aspects of poverty in Mexico.

As part of her focus on rural life, and important aspect of her work was the promotion of Mexican handcrafts and folk art, of which she amassed a collection of over 3,000 pieces over her lifetime and was featured in some of her work. An exhibit dedicated to this aspect was shown in 2012 at the Museo de Arte Popular in Mexico City.

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