Told and Untold Book Reviews

Told and Untold

By Miriam Margarita Basilio, Christina L. De León, Andrea Geyer, Ana María Norah Horna y Fernández, Cristóbal Andrés Jácome, Michel Otayek and Antonella Pelizzari; edited by Gabriela Rangel
188 pages, hardbound, $32
Published by Americas Society/Council of the Americas
as-coa.org

Told and Untold: The Photo Stories of Kati Horna in the Illustrated Press is about a photographer whose uncompromising images both reflected and helped shape the tumultuous times in which she lived. The 188 pages of photographs, essays, contact sheets and periodicals have all been painstakingly curated in concert with an exhibition at the Americas Society Gallery.

Kati Horna (née Deutsch) was born in May 1912 in Budapest, but spent most of her adult life in Mexico, where she died in October 2000. Her youthful travels in interwar Europe speak to the history she saw firsthand; she embraced leftist politics in Berlin, rubbing shoulders with Bertolt Brecht and Marxist theoretician Karl Korsch before leaving in 1933, the Reichstag smoldering behind her. Horna worked as a photographer in Paris and befriended Robert Capa before becoming an anarchist propagandist during the Spanish Civil War. Her cause lost, she returned to Paris briefly before fleeing to Mexico to escape the Nazis. 

Time has a way of narrowing narratives, like desert sands swallowing all but the highest point of ancient structures. So it is for the artist, especially for a woman employing a collaborative process in a male-dominated field. Thus, reading the 188 pages of this book feels like an archaeological dig where each shard of pottery is as important as the pyramid itself. Seven authors, including Horna’s daughter, Ana María Norah Horna y Fernández, weigh in on her extraordinary life and work and bring context, critical analysis and intimacy to this trove of archival materials. Although Horna is often more closely associated with the surrealist movement, Told and Untold explores her politics, her love of architecture and, perhaps most intriguingly, her protofeminist work.

It’s a deep, yet rewarding excavation that includes many images never before published, alongside yellowed newspaper clippings and personal albums. Horna thought of herself as an “art worker,” and despite its intellectual heft, Told and Untold reflects that in its unpretentious, yet exacting approach to her considerable legacy.—Dzana Tsomondo

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