Mexico: From Empire to Revolution is a Web resource that draws upon the collection of the Getty Research Institute and extends the two-part exhibition held at the Institute between October 2000 and May 2001. Reproduced in the digital resource are cabinet cards, cartes-de-visite, albums, postcards and other forms of photography. The Photographers represented are either Mexican or European or North American. The work of some thirty known photographers is shown, alongside that of many others who remain anonymous. Together they provide a chronicle of Mexico from approximately 1857 to 1923, a chronicle explored in the History and Chronology sections of the resource. The terrain across which this history played out may be explored in the Maps section. The animated introduction gives a sampling of the events and lives documented by the photographs included in this Web site, including images of the railways, bridges, roads, buildings and monuments that became the fabric of the country, and portraits of Mexico’s leaders and ordinary people, all of whom played a part in the unfolding story.

Throughout the period covered here, photographers played a critical role as chroniclers of events as they unfolded and the people involved in them, and also as documentarians who captured a glimpse of the historical past and present. Their photographs, reflecting different points of view, provide evidence of the earlier pre-Columbian and colonial empires as well as the contemporary events that were transforming Mexico. Photographs are a means through which the present can be transmitted into a repository of history. In this sense, many of the photographs of Mexico offer, in hindsight and almost by accident, vivid and immediate information that can be otherwise found only in the paintings and works of fiction of the time.

Mexico: From Empire to Revolution covers approximately sixty years. It begins in 1857 with the appointment of Benito Juárez as acting President of the Republic and the arrival of the French photographer Désiré Charnay from France. It ends with the final phases of the Revolution, the election of Álvaro Obregón as President in 1920 and the photographs of 1923 that record the bloody assassination of one of the leaders of the Revolution, Pancho Villa. This period represents one of the most dramatic and violent in Mexico’s history. In that short span of time the country experienced imperial intervention followed by conflict, rebellion and finally revolution.

There are, in a sense, two histories here, a history of Mexico and another of photography: two histories that interact and reflect upon one another. The photographs taken had a powerful influence over the course of events. Many represent photo opportunities for leaders, groups and movements to publicize themselves and their cause. Other images expose harsh realities of brutality and violence that for some are best forgotten, These images provide evidence of what had disappeared or would be otherwise lost in the folds and shadows of a larger history of a nation and countries at war.

There remain many events, people and places unaccounted for, as well as many photographers unrepresented. In this sense the record is far from complete. The Getty Research collections sampled here have been created in order to preserve and tell through images and documents the cultural and social history of Mexico. But In so doing, they also tell of how other countries played a part, how Mexico and its history cannot be seen in isolation from the history of the West or Latin America. There are other archives and collections that could provide insight into other events and people, another way of telling, and hence this site is meant to be only one of many narratives that can be reconstructed out of the evidence remaining. It is an archive that will remain always impossibly insufficient and a record that will always remain partial, fragmentary and incomplete.