Book Review: Tina Modotti: Photographer & Revolutionary
By Liz Von Klemperer
Artbook is republishing the award-winning biography Tina Modotti: Photographer & Revolutionary, which was first released in 1993. The book, written by Margaret Hooks, captures Modotti’s multifaceted life as a photographer and political activist. Although Modotti’s career as a photographer spanned only nine years, her work is diverse and ranges from photojournalism of Mexican revolutionaries and citizens, to portraiture of both celebrities and everyday people.
Hooks casts a wide gaze on Modetti’s life, first taking readers from her birth in Italy to her emigration to San Francisco at the age of sixteen. In 1923, at the age of twenty-seven, Modotti traveled with her romantic and photographic partner, Edward Weston, to Mexico City to start a portrait studio. Modotti became increasingly drawn to political activism in Mexico City, and started working for the communist newspaper El Machete. Modetti was ultimately exiled from Mexico in 1930 as a result of an anti-communist campaign, and was forced to return to Italy. During her time in Mexico, however, she formed strong relationships with notable artists such as Diego Rivera. She modeled for Rivera, appeared in his murals, and subsequently photographed his murals. This collaboration exemplifies her influence as a member of a community of countercultural artists, working together to challenge the status quo artistically as well as politically. The political angle of her art could also be seen in her portraits of agricultural workers, who represented Mexico’s self sustainability.
Modotti threw herself into her photography while she was in Mexico. She describes this period as one in which she was able to dedicate herself to her her ‘precious work.’ Modotti’s work itself can be described as precious, as her work features close up images of lush and delicate flowers. This is a testament to the diversity of her work, as she was able to zoom in on people as well as the natural flora and fauna of Mexico.
Modotti’s artistic philosophy was to capture an unmediated reality. “I try to produce not art but honest photographs, without distortions or manipulations,” she said. The image Telegraph, for example, is a prime example of this methodology, as it features an unmediated stark, industrial landscape.
Although Modotti died at the young age of 45, her influence is apparent as both a photographer and figure within the artistic community. Hooks pays homage to a vibrant and unconventional life. The book comes out from Artbook on October 24, 2017.