The J. Paul Getty Museum

Optical Parable/[Parábola Optica]

Object Details


Optical Parable/[Parábola Optica]


Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1902 - 2002)




negative 1931; print 1974


Gelatin silver print

Object Number:



23.7 × 17.9 cm (9 5/16 × 7 1/16 in.)


© Colette Urbajtel/Archivo Manuel Álvarez Bravo, SC

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Object Description

This photograph of an optician's shop and oval hanging sign, taken from the perspective of a pedestrian looking up, plays a trick on the viewer. By flipping the negative and producing reversed text, Manuel Alvarez Bravo called into question the accuracy of vision. Images of the human eye reiterate the theme of looking.

Although the name La Optica Modernameans "the modern optician's shop," Alvarez Bravo recognized that these words imply "the modern viewpoint." The photograph's title, Parabola optica, compounds this wordplay. Parabolaboth suggests the shape of something and alludes to parable, a story with multiple meanings. Alvarez Bravo thus crafted a modern parable about the shapes we see and the meanings we attach to them.

- 1984

Samuel Wagstaff, Jr., American, 1921 - 1987, sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1984.

Neither Speech nor Language: Photography and the Written Word (February 28 to May 12, 1991)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu), February 28 to May 12, 1991
Manuel Alvarez Bravo: Optical Parables (November 13, 2001 to February 9, 2003)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), November 13, 2001 to February 17, 2002
  • Museo Nacional de Arte (Mexico City), March 14 to June 2, 2002
  • Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), November 10, 2002 to February 9, 2003
The Thrill of the Chase: The Wagstaff Collection of Photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum (March 15, 2016 to May 7, 2017)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), March 15 to July 31, 2016
  • Wadsworth Atheneum (Hartford), September 10 to December 11, 2016
  • Portland Museum of Art (Portland), February 13 to May 7, 2017

Manuel Alvarez Bravo: Optical Parables, exh. brochure (Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum), cover.

Sociedad de Arte Moderno. Fotografías, exh. cat. (México: D.F. Sociedad de Arte Moderno, 1945), p. 43.

Trueblood, Beatrice. Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Photographies 1928-1968, exh. cat. (Mexico City: Comité Organizador de los Juegos de la XIX Olimpiada, Departamento de Publicaciones, 1968).

Pasadena Art Museum and Fred R. Parker. Manuel Alvarez Bravo, exh. cat. (Pasadena, Calif: Pasadena Art Museum, 1971).

Livingston, Jane. M Alvarez Bravo, exh. cat. (Boston, Mass.: D. R. Godine; Washington, D.C.: Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1978), no. 25.

Academia de Artes. Manuel Alvarez Bravo (Mexico: Academia de Artes, 1980).

Salas Pablo Ruíz Picasso. Manuel Álvarez Bravo, exh. cat. (Madrid: Ministerio de Cultura, Dirección General de Bellas Artes y Archivos, 1985), pl. 1, p. 39.