Lourdes Grobet, whose father kept her from professional wrestling competitions in Mexico as a girl, who later became a photographer and is best known for her images of masked luchadores hitting the body, both in the ring and in their everyday lives, died on 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, Ms. Grobet found innovative ways to present her photography, including in an installation in which viewers explored a maze of life-size photos of prisons and naked men and women, different light sources, and raised floors.
But by 1980, she was entering the wrestling arenas, camera in hand, believing that the sport known as lucha libre, which translates to “free fight,” was a part of indigenous Mexican culture that hadn’t been effectively explored.
“I was so amazed by what happened,” she said in a 2021 interview with AWARE, a Parisian non-profit organization that promotes female artists. “And I decided to focus a large part of my efforts on lucha libre because it was here that I saw what I thought was real Mexican culture.”
Ms. Grobet (pronounced Grow-BAY) photographed wrestlers for more than two decades, less as a journalist and more as an anthropologist. She followed them into the arenas, their locker rooms and their homes, and to their regular jobs, rarely depicting them without the distinctive Lucha Libre masks, which have historical ties to Aztec and Mayan cultures and symbolize strength and empowerment in Mexico .
Among her captivating images: The stunning Blue Demon, in his blue mask with silver rims around 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 wrestler who supported orphans in his parish, wears his red and gold mask along with his gold robes while holding a communion host in a church.
A female wrestler, also in a red and gold mask, wraps her cloak around her two young sons in their home. Another is feeding her baby with a bottle. Others put on makeup. Ms. Grobet had a special affinity for women wrestlers, for the double lives they led – performing in the ring while raising families.
El Santo and the Blue Demon, two of Ms. Grobet’s favorite subjects, were the only luchadores whose faces she never saw.
“And I didn’t want to see her,” she said in a 2017 interview for the Artists Series, online interviews by photographer and filmmaker Ted Forbes. “I used to visit the other wrestlers in the arena,” and they put on their masks when she started photographing 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 text by Carlos Monsiváis).
The book preceded the release of the 2006 film Nacho Libre, a Jack Black-starring parody 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 voiced her hope that the sport would be treated with respect, telling the New York Times that anyone who thought lucha libre was cheesy entertainment was indulging in “social class prejudice.”
Seila Montes, a Spanish photojournalist who photographed the luchadores from 2016 to 2018, wrote in an email: “Lourdes was a pioneer in turning her lens on ordinary places” and “attributing the sublime in the ordinary and marginal.” Find.
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 1,000-meter time trial on the track; He later owned a plumbing business. Her mother, María Luisa Argüelles de Grobet, was a housewife.
Although Ms Grobet said she came from a family of “sports fanatics and body worshipers” who watched wrestling on TV, her father refused to let her attend the fights in person.
“He didn’t think women should see something like that,” she told journalist Angélica Abelleyra in an undated interview. “He didn’t want us to become friends with the ‘bangs’ in the ring or in the crowd.”
Mrs. Grobet was a gymnast as a girl, then a dancer. After studying classical dance for five years, she was bedridden with hepatitis, which prevented her from moving for long periods of time.
When she recovered, she began taking formal painting classes, then studied at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City with painter-sculptor Mathias Goeritz and surrealist photographer Kati Horna, among others. In 1960 she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts.
As a painter, she was “looking for something between abstraction, figuration and expressionism,” she told Ms. Abelleyra, but felt uncomfortable with the medium. She switched to photography while studying in Paris in the late 1960s.
Ms. Grobet did not look for the ordinary in her photography. In the UK in the late 1970s she photographed landscapes which she had modified by painting rocks with brightly colored paint; later she photographed Mexican landscapes adorned with cacti and plants she had painted. Some of these images were included in the 2020 group show Out of Place: A Feminist Look at the Collection at the Brooklyn Museum.
She had solo shows around the world but not in the United States until 2005 when the Bruce Silverstein Gallery in Manhattan held a career retrospective. Her works are in the collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Musée Du Quai Branly in Paris, the Centro de la Imagen in Mexico City, and the Helmut Gershaim Collection at the University of Texas, Austin.
In addition to her daughter Ximena and her son Xavier, Ms Grobet is survived by 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, Ms. Grobet embarked on a three-decade project photographing the actors of a rural Mexican regional theater company, the Laboratorio Teatro Campesino e Indígena.
“When I saw those performances, it was the same feeling I had when I first saw Lucha Libre,” she said in the AWARE interview. “I didn’t take photos of tribal peoples per se; I photographed cultural paradigms.”