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Rare chance to see Frida Kahlo photo archive, now at Museum of Latin American Art

A photo of Diego Rivera, with a kiss from Frida Kahlo
A photo of Diego Rivera, with a kiss from Frida Kahlo
A Estrada / Mexico / Courtesy MoLAA
A photo of Diego Rivera, with a kiss from Frida Kahlo
A portrait of Frida Kahlo taken by her father, Guillermo Kahlo
Guillermo Kahlo / Courtesy MoLAA
A photo of Diego Rivera, with a kiss from Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo with her dog
Lola Álvarez Bravo/Courtesy MoLAA

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John Rabe talks with Edward Hayes Jr., Assistant Curator at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, about the 240 photos from Frida Kahlo’s personal collection now on display. The exhibit, Frida Kahlo, Her Photos, is up until June 8.

Frida Kahlo, Her Photos is a selection from an archive of over 6,500 photos at La Casa Azul - Museo Frida Kahlo, the Mexican artist’s childhood home and final resting place. Never intended for public display, the photos are a glimpse into Kahlo’s artistic, political, and famously complicated love life, often featuring her husband Diego Rivera and her lovers.

"We have photographs here that maybe weren’t meant to be seen," says curator Edward Hayes. "There are very intimate photographs — a whole section on lovers, close friends, acquaintances, high-profile affairs.”

Though the images on display are copies — Rivera’s will specified that the originals should never leave Mexico — the reproductions are highly detailed, sometimes including Kahlo's handwritten notes or even a lipstick kiss.

But the collection isn’t all drama and steamy extramarital affairs. Some of the more mundane snapshots are the most humanizing. A tiny portrait of Kahlo’s dog, La Burgesa, is accompanied by a short note to a traveling Rivera: "When are you coming home? The dog misses you." It reads like an email that anyone today might write to their husband or wife.

Frida Kahlo, Her Photos also includes images taken by many of the couple’s well-known photographer friends like Edward Weston, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Man Ray and Tina Modotti.

"Maybe if you’ve seen the recent Salma Hayek movie, you think you know the story," Hayes says. "But this exhibition draws light to different parts of her life. It also makes me reflect on what images mean to me, how I use photography and how we go beyond a family album to something different."