Lourdes Grobet, whose father wouldn’t let her attend professional wrestling in Mexico because she was a girl but later became a photographer who became famous for her pictures of masked luchadores both in the ring and in their everyday lives, died July 15 at her home in Mexico City. He was 81 years old.
His daughter Ximena Perez Grobet said the cause was pancreatic cancer.
For nearly 20 years, Ms. Grobet has found innovative ways to present her photography, including installations in which viewers explore a maze of life-size photographs of prisons and nude men and women, various light sources, and false floors.
But around 1980, he moved into the wrestling arena, camera in hand, believing that the sport known as lucha libre, which translates to “free fighting,” was a part of indigenous Mexican culture that had not been effectively explored.
“I was very surprised by the events,” she told AWARE, a Paris-based nonprofit that promotes female artists, in a 2021 interview. “And I decided to focus a lot of my efforts on lucha libre because that’s where I saw it. What I thought was real Mexican culture.
Ms. Grobet (pronounced grow-BAY) has been covering wrestlers for more than two decades, less as a journalist than as an anthropologist. He followed them into arenas, locker rooms, homes and casual work, rarely portraying them without their signature lucha libre masks, which have historical ties to Aztec and Mayan cultures and represent strength and empowerment in Mexico.
Among his arresting images: the magnificent blue demon, in his blue mask, with silver eyes, nose and mouth, sits for a portrait in a white three-piece suit, tie, pocket square and cuffs.
El Santo, one of the most famous luchadores, eats food from an outside vendor.
Fray Tormenta, a priest who supported the orphans of his parish as a wrestler, wears his red and gold mask with a golden robe as he holds aloft the communion host in a church.
A female wrestler, also in a red and gold mask, wraps two young sons in a cape in her home. He feeds the second child with a bottle. Others wear make-up. Ms. Grobet had a special fondness for women wrestlers, the double lives they lead – 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 had never seen.
“And I didn’t want to see them,” he said in a 2017 interview for the Artists Series, an online series of interviews with photographer and filmmaker Ted Forbes. “I would visit the other wrestlers in the ring” and put on their masks as he began filming them.
He took thousands of pictures of wrestlers (and their fans), many of which he published in Lucha Libre: The Masked Superstars of Mexican Wrestling (2005, with text by Carlos Monsivais).
The book preceded the release of the 2006 film Nacho Libre, starring Jack Black, inspired by the life of Fray Tormenta. (Mr. Black’s character is a convent cook, not a priest.) Ms. Grobet’s son, Xavier Grobet, was her cinematographer.
Shortly before the film’s release, he expressed his hope that the sport would be treated with respect, telling The New York Times that anyone who thinks lucha libre is campy entertainment is indulging in “social class prejudice.”
Seila Montes, a Spanish photojournalist who photographed luchadores from 2016 to 2018, wrote in the letter: “Lourdes pioneered his lens to the commonplace” and “exalted the ordinary and the marginal.”
Maria de Lourdes Grobet Argüelles was born on July 25, 1940 in Mexico City. His father, Ernesto Grobet Palacio, was a cyclist at the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, finishing last in the 1,000-meter time trial; He later owned a plumbing business. His mother, María Luisa Arguelles de Grobet, was a housewife.
Although Ms Grobet said she came from a family of “sports fanatics and body admirers” who watched wrestling on TV, her father refused to allow her to attend matches in person.
“He didn’t think it was something women should see,” she told journalist Angelica Abelira in an undated interview. “He didn’t want us to be friends with ‘bombs’ in the ring or in the audience.”
Mrs. Grobeti was a gymnast, and then a dancer. After studying classical dance for five years, he was stricken with hepatitis, which prevented him from any training for a long time.
When he recovered, he began taking formal painting courses, then studied at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City under, among others, painter and sculptor Matias Goeritz and surrealist photographer Cathy Horna. In 1960, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in visual arts.
As an artist, he was “looking for something between abstraction, figuration and expressionism,” he told Ms. Abellira, but became uncomfortable with the medium. He switched to photography while studying in Paris in the late 1960s.
Mrs. Grobet was not looking for the ordinary in her photography. In Britain in the late 1970s, he photographed landscapes that he altered by painting rocks with colorful house paint; He later photographed Mexican landscapes decorated with cacti and plants that he painted. Some of the images were included in the 2020 group exhibition, Out of Place: A Feminist Look at the Collection, at the Brooklyn Museum.
He has had solo exhibitions around the world, but not in the United States until 2005, when the Bruce Silverstein Gallery in Manhattan held a career retrospective. His 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 at Austin.
In addition to daughter Ximena and son Xavier, Mrs. Grobe is survived by another daughter, Alejandra Perez. grobet another son, Juan Cristóbal Perez Grobet; his sister, Maria Luisa Grobet Arguelles; his brother, Ernesto Grobet Arguelles and six grandchildren. Her marriage to Xavier Pérez Barba ended in divorce.
In the mid-1980s, Ms. Grobet began a three-decade-long project involving actors from a rural Mexican regional theater group, the Laboratorio Teatro Campesino e Indígena.
“When I saw these performances, I experienced the same feeling when I first saw lucha libre,” he said in an AWARE interview. “I wasn’t photographing indigenous people, per se; I was accepting cultural paradigms.”