portrait of this blog's author - by Stephen Blackman 2008

Wednesday, July 11, 2018


(dedicated to the memory of Carol Brown my colleague from MOMAO and arts administrator par excellence who introduced me to Modotti)

Until her sudden – and some say mysterious – death at 45, the Italian-born artist lived an extraordinary life, morphing from silent-film actress to model, muse, photographer, Mexican revolutionary and (possibly) spy. Yet it wasn’t until the 1990s – when a cache of her photographs was discovered in a farmhouse in Oregon and several platinum prints, Roses and Calla Lilies, were auctioned for hundreds of thousands of dollars in New York – that her own photographic legacy and incredible story would come to light

This from MOMA New York:
Tina Modotti’s photographs blend formal rigor with social awareness. The Italian-born artist immigrated to the United States when she was 16. She acted in plays and silent films, and worked as an artist’s model during her first years in the country. In 1920 she met photographer Edward Weston, who mentored her and was a great influence on her subsequent work. By 1921 they had become lovers, and in 1923 they moved together to Mexico City, which had become a cosmopolitan center in the interwar years. There, cultural and political expatriates like Weston and Modotti, Sergei Eisenstein, and Leon Trotsky moved in bohemian circles with Mexican intellectuals and artists such as Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Modotti and Weston opened a portrait studio in the city. 
With her camera, Modotti captured Mexico’s sights and people. She took its folk art and landscapes as the starting points for her most abstract images. Telephone Wires, Mexico isolates taut stretches of wire against a pale sky, finding gridded linearity in the skyscape. Staircase and Stadium, Mexico City record repetitions of stairs and shadows, creating complex images that push these architectural features toward abstraction. 
Modotti’s social concerns emerge in photographs such as Worker’s Hands, a quiet celebration of a laborer’s dignity. Mella’s Typewriter reveals her leftist leanings and carries a subtle social heft. Modotti met Julio Antonio Mella, a Cuban revolutionary who was a hero among other Latin American radicals, in 1928, at a demonstration in Mexico City against the execution of the anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. The following year, Mella was assassinated as he walked home with Modotti by his side. Her photograph of his typewriter, his instrument for recording his beliefs, is a symbolic portrait of Mella’s life and work, and an emblem of her own Communist sympathies—which ultimately led to her exile from Mexico in 1930. 
Modotti eventually settled in Moscow, where she joined the Soviet Communist Party. She gave up photography completely in 1931 to dedicate herself to political work. When she died in 1942 from congestive heart failure, she left behind a small but intensely influential body of work that reflects her appreciation for the Mexican working class, filtered through the precise formal vocabulary of her photographic practice. Introduction by Kelly Sidley, Curatorial Assistant, MOMA NY, Department of Photography, 2016
Frida Kahlo and Tina fooling around

Tina Modotti by Edward Weston - double portrait

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