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  • Writer's pictureDebora Masetti

Tina Modotti

Born Assunta Adelaide Luigia Modotti on August 16, 1896 in Udine, Italy, she emigrates to the United States in 1913 to live with her father in San Francisco. Modotti becomes involved in acting in Los Angeles during the early 1920s and enters the circles of several artists including her future lover the photographer Edward Weston.

Almost all of Tina Modotti's life has been crossed by passions, animated by numerous lovers and intense relationships, but the one with Weston was certainly among the most important and indelible.

While continuing to hide their relationship from Weston's friends and wife, the two live together in Edward's studio where Tina is required to assist in the darkroom, purchase materials and keep books, and in return she was receiving photography.

In 1923, Modotti and Weston set out for Mexico City, establish a photography studio upon arriving. Thanks to the public exhibition organized by Weston, the two begin to be known in the city and to be invited to the parties of communist intellectuals and avant-garde artists, including Diego Rivera, a prominent Mexican painter and his fellow Mexican painter Xavier Guerrero.

While she continued to help Weston in the darkroom, Tina restarts her photography attempts by turning her attention to the panorama of the city seen from her bedroom window, and still life with elegant and allusively erotic flowers.

Although the two often worked side by side, Tina and Weston’s photographs of the same scenes or objects are remarkably different.

Weston later returned to his wife in California, Modotti stays in Mexico and becomes more involved in radical politics.She buys the long-awaited Graflex, a camera that allows freedom of action. She is finally able to document events such as the workers events on the occasion of the International Workers' Day celebrations, “Mexican Folkways”.

From this photo, it is clear the intimate connection of Tina with the moment she was capturing, she wasn’t only taking the photo, but she was part of the worker’s parade.

After Weston, Tina once again falls in love with the artist Xavier Guerrero, accentuating the political and ideological component of her photography.

After Xavier leaves for a course at the Lenin International School in Moscow, Julio Antonio Mella becomes her new life partner Julio Antonio Mella, a Cuban activist who was in Mexico to organize riots. Among her acquaintances to note Frida Khalo, fascinating artist and lover of Diego Rivera.

Mella is murdered and Tina takes some photos of her dead lover, proving her great courage and coldness towards the photographic act. After the suffering from the killing of Mella, Tina intensifies her work by publishing propaganda photographs, before being exiled in 1931. She stopped producing photographs after this time and in 1939 returned to Mexico under a false name.

On the night of January 5, 1942, Tina Modotti died of a heart attack in the taxi that was taking her home, after a dinner at the house of the architect Hannes Meyer. In her handbag was found a photograph of Julio Antonio Mella in his first Mexican period, a symbol of her extraordinary life dedicated to photography, love and her beloved Mexico.


F. Muzzarelli, Il corpo e l’azione, Atlante, Bologna 2007, Il corpo come prassi politica

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