While Tina Modotti is most known for her high-profile romantic relationships, including Diego Rivera and the American master photographer, Edward Weston, she is also seen as one of Mexico’s first in a line of important women photographers, particularly her photographs of peasants, women and children and political iconography.Tina Modotti (1896 – 1942) was born in Italy and immigrated to the United States in 1906. For seven years, she worked in a textile factory before joining her father in 1913 in San Francisco, where she worked as a seamstress and dressmaker. By 1920, Modotti had embarked on a Hollywood film career and began an intense relationship with Edward Weston, who would make a number of famous portrait and nude studies of her.
© Edward Weston, Tina Modotti, 1924
On a trip to Mexico in 1922, she met the Mexican muralists and became interested in the cultural renaissance that was taking place. Dissatisfied with her film career, she persuaded Weston to leave Los Angeles and move to Mexico to teach her photography. Soon their Mexico City home became a renowned gathering place for artists, writers and political radicals. With this inspiration and energy around her, Modotti made photographs that achieved a remarkable synthesis of artistic form and engaged social content.
In 1929, Modotti was framed for the murder of her Cuban lover who had been gunned down while at her side on a Mexico City street. Because of her strong socialist political opinions and Communist Party affiliation, she became a scapegoat of government repression as she was publicly slandered in a sensational trial before being acquitted. Expelled from Mexico, she would move to Berlin and then to the Soviet Union, where she would abandon photography for political activism. In 1939, she returned to Mexico and would die three years later of heart failure.
All photographs © Estate of Tina Modotti