Luis González Palma, Mirada @Throckmorton

JTF (just the facts): A total of 35 photographic works, variously framed and matted, and hung against white walls and dividers in the main gallery space, the elevator lobby, and the office area.

The following works are included in the show:

  • 1 gelatin silver print toned, 1989, sized roughly 18×17 inches, (no edition)
  • 1 gelatin silver print with ribbon, 1990, sized 59×19 inches, unique
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1990/later, sized roughly 12×12 inches, (no edition)
  • 1 gelatin silver print, 1990s, sized roughly 9×63 inches, in an edition of 15
  • 1 gelatin silver print with bitumen, 1991, sized roughly 20×20 inches, (no edition)
  • 1 gelatin silver print toned, 1991, sized roughly 20×20 inches, in an edition of 15
  • 1 gelatin silver print toned, collage, mixed media, 1990-1992, sized roughly 11×19 inches, unique
  • 1 gelatin silver print with bitumen, 1992, sized roughly 20×33 inches, unique
  • 1 gelatin silver print with bitumen, 1994, sized 59×20 inches, unique
  • 1 gelatin silver print with hand painting, 1995, sized 20×20 inches, in an edition of 10
  • 1 gelatin silver print with selenium toning, 1995/later, sized roughly 19×19 inches, in an edition of 15
  • 2 ambrotype on wood, 1996, 1998, sized roughly 8×8 inches, in editions of 15
  • 1 platinum/palladium print, 1998, sized 22×22 inches, in an edition of 15
  • 1 gelatin silver print with bitumen, 1998, sized 20×20 inches, in an edition of 15
  • 1 mixed media, 1998, sized 39×39 inches, unique
  • 1 gelatin silver print with bitumen, Kodalith, hand made paper, 1998, sized 40×40 inches, unique
  • 1 gelatin silver print with hand toning, Kodalith, aluminum foil collage with applied staples, 1998, sized roughly 20×46 inches, in an edition of 15
  • 1 platinum/palladium print, 1998, sized roughly 6×7 inches, in an edition of 15
  • 1 gelatin silver print with hand coloring, 1999, sized roughly 31×60 inches, in an edition of 15
  • 1 gelatin silver print with hand painting, 2000, sized roughly 22×22 inches, in an edition of 32
  • 3 mixed media, 2000, 2002, 2004, sized 20×40, in editions of 15
  • 2 ambrotype on wood, 2006, sized roughly 11×19 inches, in editions of 10
  • 3 gelatin silver print with watercolor, 2011, sized 20×20 inches, in editions of 7
  • 3 sets of 2 gelatin silver prints with hand painting, 2013, each panel 12×12 inches, unique
  • 1 photographic print on wool, 2013, sized 21×21 inches, unique
  • 1 archival pigment print on canvas with acrylic, 2015, sized 20×20 inches, unique
  • 1 mixed media, 2021, sized roughly 12×12 inches, in an edition of 20

(Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: At a time when we are more actively rethinking whose stories are told in the world of contemporary photography and paying particular attention to those that have been left out or marginalized along the way, it seems likely that the work of the Guatemalan photographer Luis González Palma will be in line for rediscovery. For the past three decades, Palma has been making portraits of the indigenous Mayans and mestizo people of Guatemala, consistently transforming individuals (including family, friends, and other acquaintances and models) into potent symbols of identity and culture.

This show takes a survey approach to Palma’s career, blending together early works from the late 1980s with images from various projects all the way to the present. A signature Palma portrait is instantly recognizable – a face, head, or torso looks straight out at us, with the intensity of the subject’s gaze amplified by hand applied bitumen, watercolor, or other toning, often creating a rich sepia color that surrounds the sitter and leaves the whites of the eyes to glow with extra intensity. Each face offers its own histories, and evokes its own emotions and psychologies, pulling us into the struggles and sorrows faced by these people.

Many of Palma’s portraits have been made more symbolic or allegorical via the use of simple props and staging. Cactus leaves and fish connect to the rhythms of the everyday (and to biblical themes), while garlands of roses, laurel leaves, and other flowers (and one skull) turn female sitters into representations of saints, queens, and virgins. Palma’s Catholic upbringing comes through in other pictures with subtle religious themes, where dark robes create demure or mournful Madonna poses, a crown of thorns sits atop a boy’s head, shining golden halos glisten behind faces, and a crucifix is featured in a full body portrait. Still other works reach toward allegory and fable, with a large crescent moon tied to the head of a female nude and Icarus wings attached to the shoulders of another sitter. And a few images of young boys use makeshift masks and capes to turn them into superheroes, bringing more modern aspirations into the visual conversation.

The engaging power of the looks and faces in these portraits in some ways overshadows just how consistently innovative Palma has been over the years with his artistic process – in this entire show, there’s hardly a single work that hasn’t been aesthetically intervened with in some way. Of course, many of Palma’s portraits feature overpainting and toning, which helps create a unique sense of place and atmosphere. But a closer look at the works on view here reveals many more process-centric experiments and mixed media additions.

Most of the works in this show start with gelatin silver prints as their baseline, but a few explore the tactile qualities of platinum/palladium, the hint of depth of the ambrotype, and even the mysterious textural roughness of a print on wool. Collage effects take shape as simple interventions like a red ribbon attached to the surface of a print to more elaborate constructions mixing toned gelatin silver prints with Kodalith transparencies, which are then further embellished with panels of gold leaf, aluminum foil, and damask fabrics. Palma has also experimented with introducing smaller images in the corner of larger portraits, grids of imagery, superimposed enlargements, more obvious drips of paint, overlays of architectural plans, text panels (with the framed ambrotypes), and more recently paired portraits with slashes of colorful geometric overpainting.

This retrospective-style show not only reminds us of the locked in potential of an eye to eye engagement with another human, it offers substantial proof that Palma has been deliberately pushing photography beyond its natural boundaries for essentially his entire career. These works take us down mystical and mythological pathways, telling personal stories that reach beyond reality. Many (if not most) other photographers who have traveled down such paths in search of elusive aesthetic magic have come away with images that feel mannered, precious, or simply overcooked, but the best of what’s on view here communes with something more elemental, where the specificity of time and place seems to slip away and we’re left with deeply felt and durably resonant connection.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced between $3500 and $20000, based on size and scarcity. Palma’s work has only been intermittently available in the secondary markets in the past decade, with recent prices ranging between roughly $1000 and $12000.

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JTF (just the facts): Published in 2023 by MACK Books (here). Hardcover, 17 x 21 cm, 192 pages, with 87 color and black-and-white photographs. Includes texts by the artist and ... Read on.

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