“I cannot, as you (Edward Weston) once proposed to me – ‘solve the problem of life by losing myself in the problem of art’… in my case, life is always struggling to predominate and art naturally suffers.”
Like many artists Tina Modotti, born in August of 1896, had talents that were vast and varied. An immigrant born in Italy, Modotti’s first explored the world of acting, partaking in plays, operas and silent films such as The Tiger’s Coat. This exposed her to California’s bohemian scene, a scene that included Mexico’s future Fine Arts education head Ricardo Gómez Robelo and photographer Edward Weston. After moving down to Mexico in 1921, Modotti had a ubiquitous relationship with Weston. She was his model, assistant and lover while he mentored her in the art of photography.
Stylistically, Modotti’s career tends to be split into two different eras. The first era shares many of Weston’s sensibilities and subject matter. Modotti’s Easter Lilly and Bud, for instance, parallels Weston’s use of contrast and anatomical exploration of nature. As Modotti became more experienced, along with taking an interest in political activism in Mexico, she became a photojournalist, documenting and participating in Mexico’s potential revolution. As the photographer of choice during the Mexican mural movement, Rita Arias Jirasek – author of Women Artists of Modern Mexico – alleged that Modotti had the first revolutionary photography exhibition in the country, a solo retrospective at the National Library in 1929. The photography itself explored architectural interiors, urban landscapes and numerous portraits of the proletariat.
Unfortunately for Modotti, her role as a political dissident antagonized the Mexican government. Revolutionaries were being targeted throughout Latin America to keep current regimes in power. When Mexican President Pascual Ortiz Rubio was subject to an assassination attempt, an anti-communist propaganda campaign depicted Modotti as the culprit. Within a year of this event, despite her innocence, Modotti was expelled from her adopted homeland to Rotterdam. Political refuge from Mexico and the growing movement of fascism in Europe hindered the rest of Modotti’s photography career. While she was eventually able to sneak back in to Mexico under a pseudonym in 1939, heart failure claimer her two years. She was 45.