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Optical Parable
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© Colette Urbajtel/Archivo Manuel Álvarez Bravo, SC

Manuel Alvarez Bravo
Mexican, negative 1931, print 1974
Gelatin silver print
9 5/16 x 7 1/16 in.
84.XM.676.1

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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 Moderna means "the modern optician's shop," Alvarez Bravo recognized that these words imply "the modern viewpoint." The photograph's title, Parabola optica, compounds this wordplay. Parabola both 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.