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Wednesday’s wise woman … Tina Modotti

October 2, 2013

Recently I visited the Royal Academy and saw the exhibition Mexico: A revolution in art 1910-1940

I was drawn to some photographs by Tina Modotti (1896-1942) who was an Italian photographer, model, actress and revolutionary political activist. In 1913, at the age of 16, she emigrated to the United States to join her father. As an actress she appeared in several plays and silent movies.  She also worked as an artist’s model.

In 1918 she met Roubaix ‘Robo’ de l’Abrie Richey,  an artist and poet; they moved together to Los Angeles so that Modotti could pursue her career in the motion picture industry.

Modotti had already been introduced to photography as child, by her father and uncle who ran photography studios. So when she met Ricardo Gómez Robelo (and become lovers) and the the photographer Edward Weston and his creative partner Margrethe Mather; she quickly developed as a journalistic photographer. By 1921 Modotti was Weston’s favourite model and lover.

Meanwhile Ricardo Gómez Robelo became the head of Mexico’s Ministry of Education’s Fine Arts Department and invited Robo to join him in Mexico City with a promise of a job and studio.

Robo left for Mexico, and Modotti followed him later but sadly he died before she arrived.  Soon after her father too died so she returned to San Francisco.

In 1923 Modotti with Weston and his son returned to Mexico; where Modotti ran Weston’s studio in return for his photographic tutoring.

During this time Modotti met Mexican photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo who was impressed by her style both ‘romantic’ and ‘revolutionary’; together they set up a portrait studio; and were commissioned to take photographs for the book Idols behind bars by Anita Brenner.

(amendments)  I have since learned that Tina and Alvarez Bravo did not had a studio. He and Tina did not met until Weston had returned to his family.

While Weston was attracted by the landscape and folk art of Mexico; Modotti was captivated by the people and their environment.  She found a community of cultural and political ‘avant-gardists and she soon became  the favoured photographer of the Mexican mural movement; documenting the works of Clemento Orozco and Diego Rivera. Here she matured and made a name for herself culminating in a one-woman retrospective exhibition at the National Library in December 1929; advertised as “The First Revolutionary Photographic Exhibition In Mexico“.

Modotti and Weston were now living in the capital’s bohemian scene and had created a growing portrait business. During this time Modotti had become involved in the Mexican Communist Party; her work now more politically motivated. Around that period, her photographs began appearing in publications such as El Machete.

When Weston returned to his family in the US;  Modotti become more committed to the political agenda.  However, she  was not to spend much longer in Mexico.  Her public profile and outspoken views as a communist at a time when the Communist Party was banned was not considered desirable.  Her new companion the Cuban Leader Julio Antonio Mella was killed.  Modotti  was linked to the assassination attempt against Pascal Ortiz Rubio soon after he had assumed the presidency.  Although Modotti was supported by Rivera, she was deported in 1929, and lived in Germany, the Soviet Union.  She returned to Mexico under an assumed name; one of many seeking asylum there from Spain where she had been fighting for the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War.  Three year later in 1942 she died of a heart attack.  This was not before she had successfully restored her reputation and been pardoned.  Sadly she never took another photograph of the country that so fascinated her.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. October 2, 2013 8:16 am

    Fascinating story

    • October 2, 2013 11:03 am

      I think she is a lady I would like to meet; but I would watch my husband!

      • October 2, 2013 1:31 pm

        You never know ..perhaps you are as fascinating as she is and there is a reason your husband pick you to be his wife . …♥

      • October 2, 2013 2:06 pm

        Mmm good answer yep! I like that

      • October 2, 2013 2:14 pm

  2. Laura Bloomsbury permalink
    October 2, 2013 11:43 am

    what an eye she had – roving et al. thanks for the intro to her

  3. October 2, 2013 12:49 pm

    Love her work. I was lucky enough to see a show of her photography at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (in 1995 — where does the time go?).

  4. vjuares permalink
    July 15, 2014 6:04 pm

    Gómez Robelo, was in love with Tina, while in exile in LA. They were lovers, that´s why she, and Robo, and Weston, ended in Mexico.
    Tina and Alvarez Bravo did not had a study. It was Weston and Tina. Alvarez Bravo knew Tina in person only in 1927. Never knew Weston –he said, Weston had gone back.
    She was not deported in 1939, but in 1929. Remember the Spanish civil war was in the second half of the 30s.
    Check the timeline, ´cause is very confused.

    • July 15, 2014 6:39 pm

      Thanks For this detail!! I will amend my copy!! I am hoping to go to an exhibition while in Brazil ….

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