The following is a guest post by Catalina Gomez, a reference librarian in the Hispanic Division, AND Adam Silvia, an assistant curator of photography in the Prints & Photographs Division.
President RÃ³mulo Betancourt of Venezuela & First Lady Carmen Valverde de Betancourt (left) greet President John F. Kennedy & First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy at the airport in Caracas, 1961. Photo by Leo Matiz. Published with permission.
This past year, photography enthusiasts celebrated the 100-year anniversary of the birth of Leo Matiz (1917â98), one of the best photographers in Latin America in the 20th century. We are thus pleased to announce the recent acquisition of 10 of his photographs, available for research in the Prints & Photographs Division.
Leonet Matiz Espinoza was born on April 1, 1917, in Aracataca, Colombia. In his 81 years, he worked as a photographer, caricaturist, newspaper publisher, painter & gallery owner, living not only in Colombia but also in Mexico, Venezuela & the United States. Employed by esteemed publications, including Life & Readerâs Digest, Matiz photographed everything from urban architecture to rural folklife. He also photographed important political AND cultural leaders, including Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera & Luis BuÃ±uel. Led by an innate curiosity, an exquisite eye & diverse interests, he captured the highs & the lows of the 20th century in unique & fascinating ways.
In April 2017, the Library acquired four photographs by Matiz showing his native Colombia. The images picture the Magdalena region, including his hometown of Aracataca, which was also the birthplace of Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel GarcÃa MÃ¡rquez. Aracataca inspired Macondo, the town in the GarcÃa MÃ¡rquezâs beloved novel âOne Hundred Years of Solitude.â
While viewing the photographs by Matiz, we were struck by how they call to mind Macondo, bringing GarcÃa MÃ¡rquezâs story to life. Among these were Matizâs famous âLa red/pavo real del mar,â which shows a fisherman casting his net; the âZona bananera,â picturing a man beside his bananas; AND âPalafitos,â which shows a girl crossing a bridge in a nearby town along the Caribbean coast. Each is magical & haunting.
âVendedor de periÃ³dicoâ shows a newspaper & magazine stand on a sidewalk in BogotÃ¡, 1962. Photo by Leo Matiz. Published with permission.
We acquired these three photographs along with âVendedor de peridÃ³co,â which pictures a newsstand in central BogotÃ¡, Colombiaâs capital city. Less well known than other images by Matiz, this last one was the most surprising. You can almost feel the cityâs heartbeat & imagine the smells, the noise & the weather by looking at the image. Initially, we believed Matiz took the photograph in the late 1950s. But then we spotted a copy of Time magazine peeking out of the newsstand. So sharp is the photograph that we could identify the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko on the cover of the magazine, which suggests the photo was taken some time in 1962.
In awe, the Library acquired an additional six photographs by Matiz in August. This new acquisition pictures Venezuela, where Matiz arrived in 1949. Recruited by Dr. Plinio Mendoza Neira to work as a journalist alongside Gabriel GarcÃa MÃ¡rquez in Caracas, Matiz photographed the insurrection that ousted Venezuelan strongman Marcos PÃ©rez JimÃ©nez on January 23, 1958. Upset by President Dwight Eisenhowerâs decision to give JimÃ©nez asylum in the United States, many Venezuelans protested Vice President Richard Nixonâs visit later that year. Camera in hand, Matiz photographed youths holding a banner that read, âNixon go home.â
Venezuelans protest the visit of U.S. vice president Richard Nixon in Caracas, 1958. Photo by Leo Matiz. Published with permission.
Matiz also documented Venezuelaâs transition to democracy under President RÃ³mulo Betancourt & photographed the dizzying growth of Caracasâpartly thanks to rising oil revenue & Venezuelaâs participation in the new Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. His photos were commonly published in promotional books.
While serving Betancourt, Matiz photographed President John F. Kennedyâs trip to Venezuela on December 16, 1961. Following the visit in January 1959 of communist Fidel Castro, Kennedy wished to cement Venezuelaâs place in the Alliance for Progress, his initiative to promote democracy & market economies in the western hemisphere.
First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy visiting the Universidad Central de Venezuela in Caracas, 1961. Photo by Leo Matiz. Published with permission.
Camera at the ready, Matiz shot Betancourt & Kennedy shaking hands at La Carlota airport. He then photographed American first lady Jacqueline Kennedy surrounded by Venezuelaâs women dignitaries. Perhaps amused by the stark contrast in how President Kennedy was received compared with Vice President Nixon, Matiz photographed a sign at the airport that declared, âWe love you Kennedy!â
In 1949, Leo Matiz was named one of the 10 best photographers in the globe. He passed away on October 24, 1998, in BogotÃ¡.