Photographer Tina Modotti

Tina Modotti was a working photographer who has become mostly forgotten by everyone except photography buffs.

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However, she had a brilliant modern eye for her medium. Her choice of subjects is quite significant, too, and sets Modotti apart from many of her period’s peers.

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Modotti was an actress and an acvitist as well as a photographer; her turn toward socialism and Communism, specifically the rise of socialist causes in Mexico, defined her career. In 1921, she met photographer Edward Weston, which was the relationship that defined her personal and political lives; she was first his favorite model, then his lover, then his colleague. By 1923 Modotti had moved to Mexico with Weston and one of his children. Four years later she was a member of the Mexican Communist Party, friends (or lovers) with key party officials and artists, including Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. In 1930 she was deported and exiled by the Mexican government.

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This was also the end of her photography career, but the blossoming of her career as a spy for the Soviets. In 1936 at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War she traveled to there with her lover Vittorio Vidali; they stayed and worked for the revolution for the next three years.

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Modotti returned to Mexico, her adopted home, in 1939 under a false name. She remained there until her death at age 46 in 1942, perhaps under suspect circumstances. She is buried in Mexico City.

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Modotti’s photographs of Mexican peasant life and of modern images are, finally, much more interesting to me than her portraits of leftist leaders and marches.

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