Casasola also saw the growing potential of photography, and his commitment grew accordingly. In 1905 he started his own photo agency with his younger brother Miguel, called Casasola Fotográficos.
With the outbreak of the Mexican revolution in 1910, the photographers of the "good life" now found themselves on the battlefield. This new reality compelled Casasola to look behind the image to the unseen.
He still focused on men of power as he did in the time of Porfirio Díaz, though now the power belonged to men like Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata. But he was changing. He was now also focused on the human price of war. He photographed armies attacking railroad trains, rough hewed soldiers replacing the upper class in what was once forbidden territory in the better parts of the conquered capital, soldaderas giving comfort and food and fighting along side their men, and the wasted bodies of the dead strewn haphazardly along the countryside. He photographed groups of armed children, the cold faces of executioners, the last moments of those being executed, and the hardened indifference of the living who had seen too much. He photographed with a clear impartial eye the men doing battle on both sides of the fight.
During this time, he was certainly aware of the work of the French portrait photographer, Nadar, and Eugene Atget who photographed the streets and neighborhoods of Paris. He must have seen the work of Jacob Riis, who photographed the slums of New York. And he surely looked through the American magazine Camera Work. It is evident that their work influenced his perceptions as he expanded the possibilities of his craft.
In 1911, along with other photographers in Mexico Ciity, Casasola formed the Asociacíon de Fotógrafos de Prensa (Mexican Association of Press Photographers), and the next year, he foundedAgencia de Informacíon Gráfica (Graphic Information Agency), which was one of the first photo agencies in the world. It included his brother, a great photographer in his own right though many of his pictures were never signed, and all members of his family from children to grandchildren.
It eventually became large enough to embrace other photojournalists, 483 of them to be exact! Here a line blurs. In many cases, it's hard to distinguish how many of Cassola's photos were shot with him behind the lens and how many were done by others, including his brother whose own name never appeared on his work.
All aspects of Mexican life were now being captured and frozen in time. Great revolutionary heroes shared a place before the lens with criminals and prostitutes.
It was becoming increasingly evident that Casasola was more than just a recorder of facts. His portraits, particularly of groups, show great skill and outstanding artistry. (It probably helped that he was over 6 feet tall, which certainly gave him a perspective not available to most Mexicans.) His photographs reveal a refined handling of space, gesture and interpersonal relationships, and there is a luminous quality to his portraits.
Between 1920 and 1930 with the years of the revolution behind him, Casasola again looked to his city, this time with the help of the 35 mm camera that saw its debut in 1925. The fantasy world of Porfirio Díaz was long gone and his interest in the rarefied world of political leaders and artistic celebrities was on the wane.
Assasination of Emiliano Zapata - April 10, 1919
He turned is eye to the common man. Loneliness, alienation, separation from others — the world of those who left their ravaged countryside to find hope in Mexico City was the new reality, and his photographs caught these images in a human and compassionate way. They showed every Mexican worthy of attention. In the process, he saw Mexico's transformation from ancient tradition to modern times, and he tried to capture that, too.
Fortino Sámano antes de su fusilamiento, 1917. Agencia Casasola (Archivo Casasola - Fototeca Nacional del INAH)
We've all seen his work but most of us have never been able to put a name to the images, and in this article it was a treat to correct that oversight and pay homage to this extraordinary man of talent and vision.
© AGUSTIN VICTOR CASASOLA
Photographs Copyright © Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico City, México