"What is a rebel? A man who says no.”Albert Camus-
Sinjari Yezidi Woman - Lalish, Iraqi Kurdistan (2012)
Thursday, December 13, 2012
An Extraordinary Photographer
Tina Modotti was an extraordinary woman who at various times was an
actress (both on stage and in Hollywood), revolutionary, a professional
portrait studio photographer with Edward Weston, an early fine art
photographer commissioned by the government of Mexico, lover and
subject of Edward Weston, lover and subject of Diego Rivera (Mexican
artist famous for his murals in Mexico and in the USA), lover of several
other prominent political revolutionaries, and a friend of Frida
Kahlo. I write “lover” here to reflect the closeness of her relationships
with these other artists and the revolutionary leaders. She was not
just an acquaintance or friend. Unfortunately, “lover of famous men”
has been how she was remembered for many years. She was more than that. Her status has been rising since the 1990s as her work has been
“rediscovered” and her work as a photographer has been better
appreciated. She was multi-talented, highly intelligent, independent,
liberated, multi-lingual (she spoke four languages), ambitious, driven,
and vibrant. I have no doubt that her famous lovers and the other men
and women she met looked at her as more than just a pretty face. They
were probably captivated by her extraordinary personality, passion for
life and politics, her artistic talents, as well as her “Hollywood
She led a very eventful and extraordinary life and was considered
part of the avant garde artist community in Mexico during the 1920s.
While she was committed and evidently loved the people of Mexico, she
was eventually imprisoned and then deported from Mexico as an “enemy of
I admire her passion for life and her photographs, especially her
compositions of hands and still life.
In 1991, one of her photographs (Roses) was sold at auction at Sotheby’s
and was at that time the most expensive photo sold at auction with a
price of $167,000.
She made that photo when she was just 28 years old and had only been
photographing seriously for about a year at the time she made it!
Frida Kahlo and Tina Modotti. Great artists (Frida a painter, Tina a photographer), political
activists, communists, friends, companions, revolutionaries. In August
1929, Modotti hosted Frida’s wedding to painter Diego Rivera. I wonder what would have happened if they had had been reunited when
Modotti returned to México in 1942… if she hadn’t died that same year…
Stanko Abadžic - Homage for Tina Modotti, 2006
There is a better world Well, there must be.
Asleep - The Smiths
A Silvia z”l
Tina Modotti by Edward Weston (1925)
Tina Modotti, Marching peasants, Mexico, 1926
‘I cannot accept life as it is - it is too chaotic - too unconscious -
therefore my resistance to it - my combat with it - I am forever
struggling to mould life according to my temperament and needs - in
other words, I put too much art in my life’ -Tina Modotti
Tina Modotti with her arms raised - Edward Weston
Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in the May Day March Photo by Tina Modotti 1929
Portrait of Tina Modotti
Tina Modotti, Convent of Tepotzotlán, Mexico, 1924
SFMOMA’s Open Space blog’s Collection Rotation series invited Anne
Bast Davis, curatorial assistant in the Painting and Sculpture, to
create a mini “exhibition.” For this edition, Davis finds inspiration in
the photographs of Tina Modotti. To take a look, click here.
Easter Lilly and bud, 1925, by Tina Modotti
Photo: Tina Modotti
Tina Modotti, Mother & Child, Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, Mexico, 1929.
Tina Modotti, Men Reading El Machete, 1924.
Tina Modotti durante la reconstrucción del asesinato de Mella. 1929.
La máquina de Juan Antonio Mella. Tina Modotti, 1928.
Tina Modotti (August 16 (or 17) 1896 – January 5, 1942) was an Italianphotographer, model, actress, and revolutionary political activist. In general, Edward Weston was moved by the landscape
and folk art of Mexico to create abstract works, while Modotti was more
captivated by the people of Mexico and blended this human interest with
a modernist aesthetic. In Mexico, Modotti found a community of cultural
and political “avant-gardists”. She became the photographer of choice for the blossoming Mexican mural movement, documenting the works of José Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera.
Her visual vocabulary matured during this period, such as her formal
experiments with architectural interiors, flowers, and urban landscapes,
and especially in her many lyrical images of peasants and workers.
Indeed, her one-woman retrospective
exhibition at the National Library in December 1929 was advertised as
“The First Revolutionary Photographic Exhibition In Mexico”. Modotti and Weston quickly gravitated toward the capital’s bohemian
scene, and used their connections to create an expanding portrait
business. It was also during this time that Modotti met several
political radicals and Communists, including three Mexican Communist
Party leaders who would all eventually become romantically linked with
Modotti: Xavier Guerrero, Julio Antonio Mella, and Vittorio Vidali. Modotti’s work was rediscovered in the United States when 90 vintage prints were exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1996. Martha Chahroudi, the museum’s curator of photography, organized the exhibit. In order to raise funds for the show, the singer Madonna auctioned
off her 1963 Mercedes-Benz. Madonna has become a major collector of
Modotti’s work. Prior to the presentation of her work in the U.S.,
Modotti’s photographs have been shown in Italy, Poland, Germany,
Austria, and other countries. The largest exhibition of her work opened
at Kunst Haus Wien in Vienna on June 30, 2010. It presented 250 photographs, many never shown before. The
exhibition is based on the collections of Galerie Bilderwelt, Berlin
and Spencer Throckmorton, NYC and curated by Reinhard Schultz.