A versatile woman and an expert of photography at her time, Tina Modotti was born in 1896 and died in 1942. She was an Italian model, a political activist, an actress and a photographer. She was a multi-talented and courageous woman with much to offer to the three worlds she was in at different phases of her life. When she was 16, she migrated to America in 1913, to unite with her father in San Francisco.
Her documentary photography and fine art career commenced in the 1920s in Mexico whilst working with Edward Weston. Despite the fact that she had no formal education, Modotti had a keen interest in focusing on matters that required an intellectual mind.
Weston was a both personal and professional partner for Tina Modotti, in other words they had an affair and they also worked together. In 1925, they both were commissioned by Anita Brenner to illustrate her book, Idols Behind Altars. For a year, she remained in San Francisco to care for her sick mother. During this time, many photographers, like Consuelo Kanaga, Dorothea Lange and Imogen Cunningham, encouraged Modotti. Once her mother regained her health, she moved back to Mexico with a Graflex camera in order to create her own journalistic photos.
In 1926, when she resumed working on Brenner’s assignment, Modotti dedicated her time to political affairs and revolution and in this time Modotti and Weston decided to part their ways. The reason was that they both had different ambitions and likeness in terms of photography, Weston liked turning ordinary objects in to beautiful and for Modotti photography was a approach to document social modification. A year later, she supplied free photos to the Communist Party that she joined. Some of the images were featured in the El Machéte newspaper. She did other projects as well, such as recording photos of Mexican crafts and muralists for publications. At this time, her work was published in Transition, a magazine of avant-garde art.
As part of her political photography assignment, she captured a protesting group of Communist Party members in 1929 on the May Day holiday. She covered the entire event from the start to the end when the situation was tense.
In 1930s, Tina Modotti questioned the idea of photography being a tool to bring political change and with this, she committed her time and energy being a Communist Party activist. After the Spanish Civil War, she came from Spain back to Mexico and lived there peacefully. She also returned to photography which was once her passion but in 1942, she died from a heart attack.
In 1996, much later after her death, when the Philadelphia Museum of Art exhibited ninety vintage images by Tina Modotti, United States rediscovered this extraordinary woman’s work. In order to generate funds for an exhibition with Martha Chahroudi as the curator, Madonna auctioned her Mercedes Benz in 1963 and the singer is also a chief collector of Modotti’s photography. Another exhibition showcased a collection of rare 250 images in Vienna at Kunst Haus Wien in 2010. Her work was also shown in Poland, Austria, Italy and Germany.
As much great as she was in photography and politics, she had an awe-inspiring physical veneer. Thus, she was welcomed in career paths such as acting and modeling, however for a short time. Her most memorable role was seen in The Tiger’s Coat. She did several films, including silent ones as well and due to her exquisiteness and charisma, she was titled the “femme fatale”.