Jetzel Chavira Focuses on Photography at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Honors Program student Jetzel Chavira stands in front of Manuel Álvarez Bravo’s photograph in the “Highlights from the Collection” photography exhibition she helped curate at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The exhibition features 85 photos related to transportation and is a small sample of the museum’s vast holding of photos dating from the advent of photography in 1839.

“Álvarez Bravo was a Mexican photographer, and I wanted to include him because there’s not a lot of diversity in the photography collection. My parents are from Mexico, and they could relate to this picture,” Jetzel said, studying the 94-year-old photographer’s self-portrait. Álvarez Bravo created the image by snapping his reflection in the side mirror of a truck in 1996 in Oaxaca, Mexico.

To the right of Álvarez Bravo’s photograph is the explanatory plaque Jetzel wrote: “Though Álvarez Bravo rarely took self-portraits as a young man, he made this image just a few years before he passed away, a literal and metaphoric self-reflection at the end of his life.”

During a recent tour of the photography show, Jetzel reflected on her role in the exhibition, her studies as a junior majoring in art history with a minor in Latinx studies who plans to pursue a doctorate degree in art history, and her interest in photography and the work of Mexican and Latinx photographers.

The Álvarez Bravo photograph is one of the ten images that Jetzel researched and wrote about as an Andrew W. Mellon Undergraduate Curatorial fellow at the Nelson-Atkins. She won the prestigious year-long fellowship, which is part of a national program seeking to create diverse curatorial cohorts in U.S. art museums, in the summer of 2021.

As a Mellon fellow, Jetzel worked with April M. Watson, the curator of photography at the Nelson-Atkins. “I never knew how much curators do,” Jetzel said. “I had hands-on experience.” 

For the exhibition, Jetzel spent many hours selecting ten images to interpret and compiling information about images by photographers such as Henri Cartier Bresson, the famous early twentieth-century French photographer known for capturing on film the “decisive moment.” One of her favorites is Carpoolers, a striking series of images of Mexican workers riding in the backs of pickup trucks from their homes to jobs in 2011-2012. Mexican photographer Alejandro Cartegna took the photos from a highway overpass that afforded a bird’s eye view of the trucks and workers and makes both artistic as well as social statements. Jetzel also conducted an interview with Cartegna interview that is on the Nelson-Atkins website at

“Jetzel came into the fellowship with a passion for photography and a love for our collection. While still in high school, she was selected to participate in the selective Photography Scholars Program, a partnership between the Nelson-Atkins and schools in the Kansas City area that introduces teens to the collection and professional practice,” Dr. Watson noted.

Praising Jetzel, Dr. Watson said she “has a natural curiosity, is always eager to learn more, and brought insight to the interpretation of works in our collection. Embracing the museum’s goal to be more diverse and inclusive, she foregrounded the contributions of women and photographers of color in her research. Jetzel was up for any challenge and was an absolute joy to have as part of our curatorial team.”

Jetzel’s fellowship provided other important opportunities, such as attending two national conferences. She encountered Mellon fellows from across the country at a recent meeting in Philadelphia. At the Midwest Art History Conference in Houston, Jetzel became acquainted with a curator from the Chicago Art Institute who gave her a private tour of the renowned museum when Jetzel later visited Chicago.

The Mellon Fellowship also provides funding for fellows as they explore graduate programs. To date, Jetzel has visited Denver University and plans to investigate programs at the University of Arizona and the University of New Mexico. 

Looking back, Jetzel said the highlight of the year “was building connections with people in museums and having the opportunity to do research on a variety of different artists.”

The “Highlights from the Collection” at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is free and can be viewed through April 2023; for more information, go to