Manuel Álvarez Bravo was born in Mexico City on 4 February 1902. He left school at the age of twelve in order to help support his family after his father's sudden death. He found work at a textile factory, and later at the National General Treasury working as a government bureaucrat. He went back to education in 1918 and attended the Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes, studying Painting and Music.
In 1923, Bravo received his first camera and began to teach himself the fundamentals of photography. He started freelancing for a magazine in Mexico City called 'Mexican Folkways', which was dedicated to Mexico's cultural history and the arts. When the editor and fellow photographer, Tina Modotti, was deported from Mexico in 1930, he took over the job, which enabled him to expand his photographic knowledge, documenting life around his home. He continued working at the Treasury, somehow juggling two jobs, but eventually, in 1932 dedicated himself fully to photography.
During the 1920s, Bravo would photograph Mexico City's people, nature and historic buildings, in a surreal, dreamlike way. Although he was never considered apart of the Surrealist movement, his work at the time shows clear evidence of their influence. He was also heavily influenced by his friend, the photographer, Edward Weston. Throughout the 1930s and the 1940s, he continued documenting life in Mexico, although shifted more towards landscapes, both in and around the city.
Bravo died at his home in Mexico City on 19 October 2002 at the age of 100. His photography reflected emerging Mexican culture during the period that followed the Mexican Revolution, expressing the essence of his home country with his lens.