Art, Art & Archives, Exhibitions and Installations, Getty Research Institute, Photographs, Film, and Video

Faces of the Mexican Revolution

When we think of the Mexican Revolution, many of us probably conjure up images of Pancho Villa or Emiliano Zapata, two of the most well-known figures from the ten-year civil war (1910-1920) that raged across Mexico during the early years of the twentieth century.  The exhibition A Nation Emerges: The Mexican Revolution Revealed, which opened at the Getty Gallery at the Los Angeles Central Library yesterday, includes photographs of people and events that will probably be familiar to you—but it also features lesser-known images both of Mexico’s revolutionary leaders and of everyday people whose names and roles remain unknown.

The exhibition, selected from the Getty Research Institute’s collections of photographs, postcards, and broadsides related to this period in Mexico’s history, was organized as part of Los Angeles’s celebration of the bicentennial of Mexico’s independence and the centennial of the Mexican Revolution. A selection of 20th- and 21st-century posters from the Center for the Study of Political Graphics that reference the Mexican Revolution is also included.

Pancho Villa

General Francisco (Pancho) Villa / D. W. Hoffman

General Francisco (Pancho) Villa, D. W. Hoffman, ca. 1912. Gelatin silver photographic postcard. The Getty Research Institute, 89.R.46

This portrait of Pancho Villa posed on a white horse was taken by D.W. Hoffman, an El Paso photographer who documented many of the revolutionary events that took place in Ciudad Juárez and northern Chihuahua state. When this portrait was made, the general already had a larger-than-life reputation and was on his way to becoming the dominant revolutionary force in northern Mexico. This image was widely circulated as a photographic postcard (a real photograph printed on a postcard backing).

In the popular mind’s-eye, Pancho Villa (known as “el centauro del norte,” the centaur of the north) still cuts a dashing figure on horseback. But  the revolutionary leader was in fact entranced by fast, modern modes of transportation. He loved cars and trains—which he saw as a means of modernizing his army—and motorcycles. In this 1914 photograph, known mostly to motorcycle enthusiasts, Villa poses with the latest Indian motorcycle model, the Hadsee Special.

Pancho Villa Posing with an Indian Motorcycle / unknown photographer

Pancho Villa Posing with an Indian Motorcycle, unknown photographer, 1914. Gelatin silver print. The Getty Research Institute, 2001.M.20

Villa’s canny understanding of these machines kept the U.S. Army at bay when it used Harley Davidson motorcycles equipped with machine guns in its unsuccessful year-long quest to hunt him down after his 1916 raid on Columbus, New Mexico. Modern transportation, however, ultimately led to Villa’s demise. In 1923, three years after “retiring” from the revolution, he was gunned down while driving in his Dodge roadster home from the town of Parral, where he had attended a baptism.

Adrián Castrejón

Gral. Adrian Castrejón con sus oficiales (General Adrian Castrejón with his officers) / Sara Castrejón Reza

Gral. Adrian Castrejón con sus oficiales (General Adrian Castrejón with his officers), Sara Castrejón Reza, 1914. Gelatin silver print. The Getty Research Institute, 2002.R.24

Unless you hail from the state of Guerrero, Mexico, you might not have heard of General Adrián Castrejón. In this professional studio portrait we see him seated with his rifle across his lap, flanked by his officers.

Castrejón enlisted in Emiliano Zapata’s forces as a common soldier in 1911, when he was 17 years old. He advanced quickly through the ranks, becoming the youngest general of the Mexican Revolution at age 21. He was a leading commander of the Zapatista forces, eventually rising to the rank of brigadier general, and is reputed to have been with Zapata when he was assassinated in 1919.

Unlike many generals, Castrejón survived the revolution, going on to serve as governor of Guerrero from 1929 to 1933. This photograph was taken by Sara Castrejón Reza, who became the first female photographer to record the Mexican Revolution when she captured images of Francisco Madero’s assault on Teloloapan, Guerrero, on April 26, 1911.

Mujer Valiente

We are fortunate to know the names of the two generals pictured above—one of international stature, the other an important regional figure. This woman on horseback, flanked by several soldiers and civilians, is only known to us from the caption on the postcard as “mujer valiente” (brave woman).

Mujer valiente (brave woman) / unknown photographer

Mujer valiente (brave woman), unknown photographer, ca. 1910–1917. Gelatin silver photographic postcard. The Getty Research Institute, 89.R.46

What is her name? What was her role in the revolution? Was she one of the soldaderas, or women soldiers, who commanded a regiment of revolutionary troops? The men grouped around her might suggest this. Was she known for a particular act of bravery, or was she just an everyday hero?

While for the moment these answers elude us, perhaps as research continues, we will come to know more about many of the men, women, and children represented in the exhibition.

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  1. Posted October 3, 2011 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    I really enjoy images that use contradicting descriptors to describe their essence. For me, these are beautiful gangster images. I find it interesting that in each photo there is a prop – whether it be a horse, guns, or a motorcycle – that takes the focus from the person, to what the person is capable of. I wonder what these men and women would look like without their armor – however, this in turn would take away from the authenticity of the moment, I presume. I wonder if D.W. Hoffman told Pancho Villa how to pose, or if Pancho Villa told D.W. Hoffman how he wanted to be photographed.

    Posted December 8, 2011 at 3:12 am | Permalink


  3. Ben Canales
    Posted February 19, 2012 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    Benito Canales was involved with the revolution and rode with the brothers Magón. The brothers were considered anarchist and published a periodical in Los Angeles “La Revolución” which was similar to “Regeneracion” there publications in Saint Louis Missouri. I am looking for information about Benito Canales (my uncle) my grandfather’s brother.

    Benito was very involved in the revolution however he was killed after he was deported at the request of Mexico. Benito is quite famous in Mexico with movies and ballads written about him.
    Any information will be greatly appreciated.

    • Jorge Castrejón
      Posted September 24, 2013 at 10:36 am | Permalink

      Greetings my Friend!

      The General Adrian Castrejón was also the Brother of my Grandfather, and as you are, i am searching deeply for more information about Him, i hope that you find more too about your Uncle. If i can help you to search i´ll do.
      There´s my email and i support your interest on your Past.

  4. dennise porfirio
    Posted April 16, 2012 at 2:01 am | Permalink

    I found this exhibition to be truly informative. It gave us a behind the scene look of what happened during the Mexican revolution. The photos each show a different perspective of what occurred during these years we see the betrayal that was felt by people and the fight that the Mexicans gave to overcome El Porfiriato”. The poverty and depression. This exhibition also highlights the common person such as women and children that were also involved but mostly become unnoticed. It definitively gave me a a sense of reconnection to my roots. Thank you GETTY for bringing such a great exhibition to The LA library.

    Dennise Porfirio
    Foshay LC

    Posted April 27, 2012 at 7:39 pm | Permalink


  6. Diana Scott
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    To Ricardo Martell: What a pleasure to see your comments as we are related. My grandfather was Jesus Medina Castillo, brother to those listed in your blog. My mother, Alicia Medina, was born to Jesus and Marcelina Medina in 1920 in the United States when they fled the revolution in Mexico to protect his family. My mother died last year at the age of 91 on June 3, 2011. I truly hope you will see my comments. It will be wonderful to connect with our long lost relatives.

    Diana Scott

    • Octavio Muñoz
      Posted March 21, 2016 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

      Hola Diana, soy nieto de Rafael Muñoz y Lidia Medina “hija de Jesús y Marcelina”; me gustaría tener datos de las fechas de nacimiento y fallecimiento de ellos, ya que estoy armando el árbol genealógico … Saludos

    Posted June 4, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    To: Diana Scott, My Email is: RIMARTELL@ATT.NET. THANKS!

  8. Castrejon family
    Posted November 20, 2012 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    My mom’s grandmother was Regina Castrejon who in turn was the Adrian Castrejon’s aunt. I was floored when I saw the picture of a young Adrian Castrejon. We are having a family get together this Christmas and would love to give my uncles and aunts (including my mom) a picture of him. Is there anyway I can get a copy of that picture that you have of him or any others? Thanks!

    • Jorge Castrejón
      Posted September 24, 2013 at 10:49 am | Permalink

      To Castrejon Family!

      I´m living on Jalisco, México, and i am looking for Castreon descendents, my lost family, the General Adrian Castrejon was my Grandfather´s brother. My Grandfather was named Carlos Castrejón Castrejon, He was also a General of the Mexican Revolution, when mi Uncle died, my Grandfather came to live to Jalisco, México. and we lost whole contact with some relative from Guerrero, México.

      I hope from some reply.

  9. Diana Gordon
    Posted July 14, 2013 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    I am trying to locate information of an aunt that rode with pancho villa. Tia Petra, unsure of last name, possible it was Herrera. Her husbands’s name was Antonio. Our family lives in El Paso,TX, but like most families during that time we have no records of history.

  10. Susy
    Posted August 31, 2013 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    My Grandparents Francisco Arreola & Martha Arreola lived in Pilares de Tera and somethimes Pancho Villa with his troops
    stop by the ranch of my grandparents it was close to a river and they usually stay there for about 2 weeks. Pancho Villa was very generous, one time he bought 4 cows and flour and feed all the people in that ranch including his troops. My Grandmother and her sister made the flour tortillas. My Grandpa and other man made the Carne Asada. Before he left the place he left money in bags for the people.
    If someone know more about this interested story or have any pictures can you please contacted me. Thank you.
    Susy B.

  11. Susana Nevarez-Marqu
    Posted November 1, 2013 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    What nice stories. However, there was another side to the Mexican Revolution. One of Villa’s colonels, Vecaber Galindo, kidnapped at gunpoint my aunt when she was 13 years old. Galindo waited until her father was away from their farm (they were not rich hacienda owners) and took her. When she tried to run away from him, he would go after her with a gun. He would not allow my aunt to visit her mother as she was dying. My aunt had a difficult pregnancy and consequently lost the child and was unable to ever bear more children. Galindo was finally murdered, thank God! I cringe when I hear the name of Pancho Villa and the Mexican Revolution. They ruined my aunt’s life. My aunt raised me as her own after my mother died of cancer.

  12. Jesus Castrejon
    Posted January 5, 2014 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Hello, my name is Jesus Castrejon. I am also looking for my family members. My dad’s name is Vidal Luis Castrejon Mendoza, better known as Luis. His father’s name was Estevan Castrejon. When my grandfather Estevan was about 7 years old he moved from Rio Valsas, Guerrero to Zumpaguacan Estado de Mexico. My great grandfather was Aristeo Castrejon. If you have any information, please reply as we may be related.

  13. ernesto ramirez
    Posted December 16, 2014 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    hi,i was wondering if i can purchase a copy of the image of pancho villa on his horse? would really appreciate it!

  14. Jose Acevedo
    Posted May 12, 2015 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    My name is José Acevedo My grampa is General Amador Acevedo he was the oldest General to die. The first town they took over was his,one of the greates Generals to lived if you wanna no more look him up

  15. Eddie Garcia
    Posted May 17, 2015 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    What happen to photos of Fidel Avila, general in villas army

  16. Armando Chacon Jr
    Posted May 23, 2015 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

    I wanted to know if the was anyone with the last name of Chacon or Morfin who hekped Pancho Villa. The reason is because my family has black and white pictures of our family member pictured sitting down next to Pancho Villa himself. Any info will be helpful….Armando Chacon Jr grandson of Manuel Morfin Chacon

  17. Mary Snow
    Posted January 30, 2016 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    My grandfather Pedro Hernandez was supposedly a general in Poncho Villa’s army. I do not have any proof. I was wondering how I might be able to find out if this was true or not. Thanks,Mary

  18. Alejandro Bello
    Posted February 20, 2016 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    Hello, I just happened to stumble upon this site and love the photos and stories. On and off through the years I’ve been trying to locate any photos of more background history of my grandfather general Modesto Guinart Lopez. Gral. Guinart Modesto A. López was in the military and participated in the Mexican Revolution . He born in Veracruz and died in 1977. He joined the Mexican Revolution in the East Division. He participated in the evacuation of the port of Veracruz by American forces in 1914 . He was commander of the Military District of Veracruz and Secretary of National Defense.


    Alejandro (Alex) Guinart Bello

  19. Rita
    Posted April 16, 2016 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    I would like to know if anyone has any information about the children who rode with Pancho Villa. My grandfather, Niick DeLeon, suposedly was one of them. Any help would be appreciated.

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