Lourdes Grobet, whose father refused to allow her to attend professional wrestling matches in Mexico because she was a girl, but who later became a photographer best known for her photographs of the body-slamming masked luchadores, both in the ring and in their daily life, died July 15 at her home in Mexico City. She was 81.
Her daughter Ximena Pérez Grobet said the cause was pancreatic cancer.
For nearly 20 years, Mrs. Grobet found innovative ways to showcase her photography, including an installation in which viewers explored a labyrinth of life-sized photographs of prisons and naked men and women, various light sources and false floors.
But around 1980, she stepped into the wrestling arenas, camera in hand, believing that the sport known as lucha libre, which translates to “free fighting,” was part of indigenous Mexican culture that hadn’t been effective yet. had been explored.
“I was so amazed at the events,” she told AWARE, a non-profit organization in Paris that promotes female artists, in a 2021 interview. “And I decided that I would focus a lot of my efforts on lucha libre, because here I saw what I thought was the real Mexican culture.”
Mrs. Grobet (pronounced grow-BAY) has photographed wrestlers for over twenty years, less as a journalist than as an anthropologist. She followed them to arenas, their locker rooms and their homes and to their regular jobs, rarely portraying them without the signature lucha libre masks that have historical ties to Aztec and Mayan cultures and represent strength and empowerment in Mexico.
Among her arresting images: The formidable Blue Demon, in his blue mask with silver lining his eyes, nose and mouth, sits for a portrait in a three-piece white suit, tie, pocket square and cufflinks.
El Santo, one of the most famous luchadores, eats a snack from an outdoor vendor.
Fray Tormenta, a priest who as a wrestler supported the orphans of his parish, wears his red and gold mask along with his gold robes as he holds up a communion host in a church.
A female wrestler, also in a red and gold mask, wraps her two young sons in her cape at her home. Another gives her baby a bottle. Others put on their makeup. Mrs. Grobet had a special affinity for the 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 by photographer and filmmaker Ted Forbes. “I would visit the other wrestlers in the arena,” and they would put on their masks when she started shooting them.
She took thousands of photos of the wrestlers (and their fans), many of which she published in a book, “Lucha Libre: Masked Superstars of Mexican Wrestling” (2005, with lyrics by Carlos Monsiváis).
The book preceded the 2006 release of the movie ‘Nacho Libre’, a parody starring Jack Black that was inspired by the life of Fray Tormenta. (Mr. Black’s character is a monastery cook, not a priest.) Ms. Grobet’s son Xavier Grobet was the cameraman.
Shortly before the film’s release, she expressed her hope that it would treat the sport with respect, telling DailyExpertNews that anyone who thought lucha libre was campy entertainment was indulging in “a prejudice about social classes.”
Seila Montes, a Spanish photojournalist who took photos of the luchadores from 2016 to 2018, wrote in an email, “Lourdes was a pioneer in aiming her lens at ordinary places” and found “the sublime in the ordinary and marginal. “
Maria de Lourdes Grobet Argüelles was born on July 25, 1940 in Mexico City. Her father, Ernesto Grobet Palacio, was a cyclist at the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, finishing last in the 1000-meter time trial. later he owned a plumbing business. Her mother, María Luisa Argüelles de Grobet, was a housewife.
Although Mrs Grobet said she came from a family of “sports fanatics and body worshipers” who watched wrestling on television, her father refused to let her go to the games in person.
“He didn’t think this was the kind of thing women should see,” she told journalist Angélica Abelleira in an undated interview. “He didn’t want us to be friends with the ‘bums’ in the ring or in the audience.”
Mrs. Grobet was a gymnast as a girl and then a dancer. After studying classical dance for five years, she was bedridden with hepatitis, which prevented her from exercising for a long time.
When she recovered, she began taking formal painting classes and went on to study at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City with the painter and sculptor Mathias Goeritz and the surrealist photographer Kati Horna, among others. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts in 1960.
As a painter she was ‘looking for something between abstraction, figuration and expressionism’, she told Ms Abelleira, but felt uncomfortable with the medium. She switched to photography in the late 1960s while studying in Paris.
Mrs. Grobet did not seek the ordinary in her photography. In Britain, in the late 1970s, she took photographs of landscapes that she had altered by painting rocks with colorful house paint; later she photographed Mexican landscapes decorated with cacti and plants that she had painted. Some of those photos were included in a 2020 group show, “Out of Place: A Feminist Look at the Collection,” 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 overview. Her works are in the collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Musée Du Quai Branly in Paris, Centro de la Imagen in Mexico City, and the Helmut Gershaim Collection at the University of Texas, Austin.
Besides her daughter Ximena and son Xavier, Mrs. Grobet leaves behind another daughter, Alejandra Pérez Grobet; another son, Juan Cristóbal Pérez Grobet; her sister, Maria Luisa Grobet Argüelles; her brother, Ernesto Grobet Argüelles, and six grandchildren. Her marriage to Xavier Pérez Barba ended in divorce.
In the mid-1980s, Mrs. Grobet completed a three-decade project where she photographed the actors in a rural Mexican regional theater company, the Laboratorio Teatro Campesino e Indígena.
“When I saw these performances, it was the same feeling I experienced when I first saw lucha libre,” she said in the AWARE interview. “I didn’t necessarily take pictures of indigenous peoples; I took pictures of cultural paradigms.”