Frida Kahlo underwent something like 40 surgeries to correct the cascade of physical ailments (possible spina bifida, polio, a horrendous bus collision which had driven an iron handrail into her pelvis) which tormented her but which gave her paintings, often made from her convalescent beds, a very particular vantage point and haunting quality. (Kahlo also worked with mirrors to serve as the limbs she was not able to mobilize). This photograph, which I’d not seen before, was sold at Sotheby's—as part of a Nickolas Muray collection which sold for 28,000 dollars. Muray is the Hungarian born US based photographer with whom she had a decade long affair. He was married four times, Kahlo almost as many (counting the re-marriage to Diego Rivera, whom she considered her true soul mate.) but they stayed close. Frida in Traction, was taken in 1940 when Muray visited her in the hospital in Mexico, and goes tight on Kahlo’s face which allows the uncertainty of her gaze—will this surgery be the answer?—full measure. Is she accepting or fearful? The folded white cloth around her famous unibrow signifies a moment when Kahlo was incapable of facing down her legacy of pain through her art. But works made that same year which include necklaces which cut into her neck and make her bleed and hearts which are ex-corpus, show she was the eternal phoenix. Muray once wrote to her that he wished he could find “the secret how to make you well again so you could sing, and smile, love and play again as I have seen you before in the bright sun or in the dark night.” As a document of one of those times when she was not able to vanquish her pain, it is unforgettable.
Photo by Nickolas Muray; © Nickolas Muray Photo Archives