Death on the Other Side: The Mexican Revolution through the Lens of US Postcards Companies

Juan Leal Ugalde

Wednesday, November 16, 2022 | 03:00 pm

*Hybrid Event* Latin American and Iberian Institute and via Zoom

801 Yale Blvd NE (campus building #165)


The Mexican Revolution triggered a massive photographic production in which numerous US-based photo companies depicted gruesome scenes to commercialize them as postcards. Significantly, the intervention of the US Armed Forces during the Invasion of the Port of Veracruz in 1914 and the Punitive Expedition in 1916-17 against revolutionary leader “Pancho” Villa in Northern Mexico marked key events for the postcards’ business. In the following presentation, I will show, in the first place, the link between the deployment of the advanced military apparatus and the development of technological images in a crucial Latin American revolution. And, in the second place, I will problematize the visual memory of mass graves, executions, and unknown human remains through images attributed to the American Walter Horne and other postcards producers, observing these images beyond the racialized perspective that represented the “savage” violence in Mexico. The crude depiction of death in these postcards also implies another account than the epic and whitewashed version of the revolutionary decade. The latter is the hegemonic perspective that has been supported through a continuous discourse of progress and official cultural politics by post-revolutionary Mexican governments, which observed the Revolution as a foundational moment for the modern State. For this analysis, I follow the notion of critical image (Georges Didi-Huberman), which stresses images’ potentiality to interrupt the homogenous writing of history and confront monumental representation of the past. With this in mind, I examine postcards held by the Center for Southwest Research at the University of New Mexico, the Palace of Governors Photo Archives in Santa Fe, and the Library of Congress. I consider that these archival resources not only represent horror and death as safely contained in the past but they also foster a critical reflection of ongoing violence concerning the US-Mexico borderland then and now.

Images that may be disturbing will be showed at the presentation.

Juan Leal Ugalde is an Assistant Professor of Spanish at Elon University in North Carolina. His scholarship studies political violence through documentary photography and fiction and non-fiction literatures concerning revolutions and civil wars in Mexico and Central America. He defended his Ph.D. dissertation, “The Enigma of Time and History: Images of Death in Revolutions and Armed Conflicts of the Twentieth Century in Mexico and Central America”, in 2019 at the University of Michigan, and is currently working on his book project, “Death and Solidarity on Focus: Critical Image and Political Violence in Mexico and Central America” (working title). Throughout his academic journey, he has served as co-editor of a monographic dossier published in Res Publica (Universidad Complutense de Madrid) on political theory in the Hispanic world and published articles about the visual memory of two ethnocides at the beginning of the twentieth century in Mexico and El Salvador. His research has a background in critical thinking, aesthetics, and Latin American visual culture. Complementary, his scholarship explores indigenous photography of the Quechua culture in the Andes, including a presentation at the Ibero-American Institute of Berlin in 2019 and a contribution to a research guide by the Hispanic Reading Room of the Library of Congress in 2022.


This event is free and open to the public.