Tina Modotti – Romantic and Revolutionary Photographer

 “I cannot solve the problem of life by losing myself in the problem of art.” – Tina Modotti

Tina Modotti (1896 – 1942) was an Italian photographer who was active in Mexico.  Modotti was born to a poverty-stricken family in the northern Italian province of Udine. Some have suggested that Modotti was introduced to photography as a young girl, as her uncle, Pietro Modotti, maintained a photography studio.

She emigrated to New York in 1913 with her mother and her siblings when she was 16 to reunite with her father who had left earlier.  After a brief stay, they moved to San Francisco, and Tina went to work in a textile factory. The very poor working conditions left an indelible impression on her. She left the textile factory to start a career in dressmaking, and, at the same time, she was taking part in local Italian theatrical productions.

Tina Modotti, quickly began living an exuberantly bohemian life style. In 1915 she met an artist named Roubaix de L’Abrie Richey, and they married approximately two years later. They relocated to Los Angeles where Tina entered the glitzy world of Hollywood and got parts in several silent films often playing the femme fatale. She appeared in several plays, operas, and silent movies in the late 1910s and early 1920s, and also worked as an artist’s model. Modotti’s movie career culminated in the 1920 film The Tiger’s Coat. She had minor parts in two other films.

Her home was a gathering place for many bohemian artists which included Edward Weston, the famous photographer, and they began a passionate affair despite the fact that they were both married. They moved to Mexico City in 1923. There he taught her photography. Modotti’s early platinum prints were close-up photographs of still-lifes such as wine glasses, folds of fabric or flowers. She also made prints of finely composed architectural spaces. By 1927, when she joined the Communist Party, she was starting to incorporate more overt social content in her work. She also gave up making expensive and time-consuming platinum prints in favour of silver gelatin prints. She focused on the proud faces and hands of mothers, children, artisans and labourers. She was deported from Mexico for her political activities in 1929; during the next decade she dedicated herself to revolutionary and anti-fascist activities in Russia and Spain and took few photographs. In 1939 she returned to Mexico City. In 1942, during a visit by her close friend, Swiss architect Hannes Meyer, Modotti died from heart failure in Mexico City under what is viewed by some as suspicious circumstances.

Although Modotti photographed from 1923–32, her work is relatively scarce. 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.

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Tina Modotti by Edward Weston

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Tina Modotti by Edward Weston

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By Tina Modotti

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By Tina Modotti

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By Tina Modotti

piante di mais Messico 1926 ca.

By Tina Modotti, 1926

Modotti rose 1924

By Tina Modotti, 1924

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By Tina Modotti

Film Career – Tina Modotti in The Tiger´s Coat

Tina Modotti in the The Tiger’s Coat

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