Lourdes Grobet, photographer of Mexico’s masked wrestlers, dies at 81

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Lourdes Grobet, whose father wouldn’t let her attend professional wrestling matches in Mexico because she was a girl, but who later became a photographer best known for her images of muscled, masked luchadores, at the both in the ring and in their daily lives, died on July 15 at her home in Mexico City. She was 81 years old.

His daughter Ximena Pérez Grobet said the cause was pancreatic cancer.

For nearly 20 years, Ms Grobet found innovative ways to showcase her photography, including an installation in which viewers explored a maze containing life-size photos of prisons and naked men and women, various sources of light and false floors.

But around 1980, she entered the wrestling arena, camera in hand, believing the sport known as lucha libre, which translates to “free fighting,” was part of Mexico’s indigenous culture that had no not been explored effectively.

“I was so amazed at the events” she said AWAREa non-profit Parisian association that promotes female artists, in an interview in 2021. “And I decided to focus a lot of my efforts on lucha libre because here I saw what I thought was the real Mexican culture.”

Ms. Grobet (pronounced grow-BAY) has photographed wrestlers for more than two decades, less as a journalist than as an anthropologist. She followed them to arenas, their locker rooms and homes and into their regular jobs, rarely depicting them without the lucha libre masks that have historical ties to Aztec and Mayan cultures and represent strength and empowerment in Mexico.

Among his striking images: The fearsome Blue Demon, in his blue mask with silver outlining his eyes, nose and mouth, sits for a portrait in a white three-piece suit, tie, pocket square and buttons cuff.

El Santo, one of the best-known luchadores, eats a snack from an outdoor vendor.

Fray Tormentaa priest who supported the orphans of his parish as a wrestler, wears his red and gold mask with his gold vestments as he holds a host aloft in a church.

A female wrestler, also masked in red and gold, wraps her two young sons in her cape at home. Another gives a bottle to her baby. Others wear makeup. Ms. Grobet had a special affinity for female wrestlers, for the double lives they led – performing in the ring while raising families.

El Santo and the Blue Demon, two of Mrs. Grobet’s favorite subjects, were the only luchadores whose faces she never saw.

“And I didn’t want to see them” she said in a 2017 interview for the Artists series, online interviews with photographer and filmmaker Ted Forbes. “The other wrestlers, I would visit them in the arena,” and they would put on their masks when she started photographing them.

She took thousands of photos of wrestlers (and their fans), many of which she published in a book, “Lucha Libre: Masked Superstars of Mexican Wrestling” (2005, with text by Carlos Monsivais).

Credit…Lourdes Grobet

The book preceded the 2006 release of the film “Nacho Libre”, a parody with Jack Black inspired by the life of Fray Tormenta. (The character of Mr. Black is a monastery cook, not a priest.) Mrs. Grobet’s son, Xavier Grobet, was the cinematographer.

Shortly before the film’s release, she expressed her hope that it would treat the sport with respect, telling The New York Times that anyone who thought lucha libre was campy entertainment was indulging in “social class prejudice”.

Seila Montes, a Spanish photojournalist who photographed the luchadores from 2016 to 2018, wrote in an email: “Lourdes was a pioneer in directing her lens to commonplaces” and finding “the sublime in the ordinary and the marginal.

Maria de Lourdes Grobet Argüelles was born on July 25, 1940 in Mexico City. His father, Ernesto Grobet Palacio, was a cyclist in the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. who finished last in the 1,000 meter track time trial; he later owned a plumbing business. His mother, María Luisa Argüelles de Grobet, was a housewife.

Although Ms Grobet said she came from a family of “sports fanatics and body worshippers” who watched wrestling on TV, her father refused to let her attend matches in person.

“He didn’t think it was the kind of thing women should see,” she told reporter Angélica. Abelleyra in an undated interview. “He didn’t want us to become friends with the ‘bums’ in the ring or in the audience.”

Ms. Grobet was a gymnast in her youth, then a dancer. After studying ballet for five years, she was bedridden due to hepatitis, which prevented her from exercising for a long time.

When she recovered, she began taking official painting classes, then studied at the Universidad Iberoamericana de Mexico under, among others, the painter and sculptor Mathias Goeritz and the surrealist photographer Kati Horna. She graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1960.

As a painter, she was “looking for something between abstraction, figuration and expressionism”, she told Ms Abelleyra, but became uncomfortable with the medium. She switched to photography while studying in Paris in the late 1960s.

Mrs. Grobet did not seek the ordinary in her photography. In Britain in the late 1970s, she took pictures of landscapes which she had altered by painting rocks with colored house paint; later, she photographed Mexican landscapes adorned with cacti and plants that she had painted. Some of these images were included in a group exhibition in 2020, “Out of Place: A Feminist Look at Collecting,” at the Brooklyn Museum.

She had solo exhibitions around the world but not in the United States until 2005 when the Bruce Silverstein Gallery in Manhattan held a career retrospective. His works are in the collections the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris, the Centro de la Imagen in Mexico City and the Helmut Gershaim Collection at the University of Texas at Austin.

Besides her daughter Ximena and her son Xavier, Ms. Grobet is survived by another daughter, Alejandra Pérez. Grobert; another son, Juan Cristóbal Pérez Grobet; his sister, Maria Luisa Grobet Argüelles; his brother, Ernesto Grobet Argüelles, and six grandchildren. Her marriage to Xavier Pérez Barba ended in divorce.

In the mid-1980s, Ms. Grobet began a three-decade project photographing the actors of a rural Mexican regional theater troupe, the Laboratorio Teatro Campesino e Indígena.

“When I saw those performances, it was the same feeling I had when I first saw lucha libre,” she said in the AWARE interview. “I wasn’t taking pictures of Aboriginal people per se; I was taking photographs of cultural paradigms.

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