A Life in Visuals – Tina Modotti, Politics, and the Power of Photography

Words can’t describe the positive feedback I’ve received from readers for this blog over the past year. I’m touched and overwhelmed by it. What has moved me the most is that such a wide variety of creative folks have responded with so much enthusiasm, from all corners of the globe. Among them are fine artists, illustrators, art models (and aspiring art models!) cartoonists, writers, graphic designers, sculptors, and, lately, a surge in photographers and fine art photography models. It’s amazing, and awesome! Common threads. Shared enjoyment. Collective inspiration. I read and respond to every single comment on this blog and read and respond to every single email. It gratifies me almost as much as art modeling itself.

So what is at the root of our united interest? Why do so many of us gather here on a semi-regular basis? I look at my blog stats, and I am absolutely baffled. Thrilled, but baffled. I say that with sincerest humility. I’d like to flatter myself and claim that it’s my personality :-) , and although that might be a tiny part of it, I know it’s not at the crux of Museworthy’s attraction. No, what’s at the heart of all this is the graphic aspect. The life forms. The expression of humanity through the visual arts. Body, flesh, face, limbs, souls, and spirits. The pleasure of looking at life, whether through paint, pencil, plaster, ink, clay, or photography. The latter takes center stage today.

Yes, this post is my little “shout out” to the photographic artists and their life subjects. They are the documenters, the chroniclers, the diarists. They’ve been stopping by Museworthy, and I’m so honored to have them here. Although I don’t do photography myself, I realize more than ever how interconnected our respective fields are. Who knows? They might even liberate me from my “film phobia”.

So what better way to begin yet another new chapter for this blog than with a woman who filled both roles, and filled them with tremendous passion and intensity. She was Tina Modotti. And while I usually take the time to do thorough, detailed biographical research on my post subjects, I’ll be somewhat brief this time only because I am blown away by the images and am eager to put them up. Plus it’s late and I’m working a lot the next couple of days and refuse to let Museworthy go too long without a fresh post. Yes, I’ve developed an insane fear of “dead blog air” and have become fervent about steady blogging momentum and activity. Yeah, I know. I’m nuts.

Tina Modotti was born in Italy in 1913 and emigrated to the United States – California specifically – when she was a teenager. There she met the man who would represent the most significant relationship of her life – photographer Edward Weston. Tina became his apprentice, assistant, and lover. Together, they settled in Mexico City.

tina-modotti

Weston photograph of Tina. Her total inhibition and comfort with her nude body before the camera jumps right out at you. She’s not just posing. She’s fully and completely there. Plus, she looks damn good.

tina_modotti_sur_la_terrasse_par_edward_

A Communist, Tina became heavily involved in radical politics and the Mexican Communist Party. Moving in those circles she inevitably befriended who else but fellow die-hard Communist, Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. She became not only one of Diego’s favorite art models, having posed for several of his murals, but also a close friend and comrade. Yes, lover too.

Another Weston picture of Tina, White Iris. Haunting and beautiful:

weston-modotti-white-iris

I’m probably stretching here a little, but she looks – just a little – like me. Maybe? Possibly? Ah, just a tiny bit. I see a little something similar. The nose is off. But I’ll take it, whatever it is :-)

tina20modotti

Tina’s own photographic output occurred for a relatively brief period, between 1923 and 1930. Her commitment to political and social causes eventually consumed a great deal of her time, along with her complicated romantic life. She liked men a lot, and made no secret of it. But the one thing for which she had greater affinity than male lovers was the plight of laborers and the indigenous people of Mexico. They are the ones she chose as the predominant subjects for her photography. Daily life of the impoverished and disenfranchised.

What symbolizes hard work, struggle, and oppressed labor more than human hands? Nothing. The observant Tina knew this. Here is her photo Hands Washing:

tina_modotti_hands_washing

Woman with Olla:

modotti_olla

By the 1930s, Tina was fully immersed in radical, revolutionary politics, and surrounded herself with dissidents, avant-guardists, and vocal activists. In 1936, she went to Spain to participate in relief missions during the Spanish Civil War. She eventually returned to her beloved Mexico.

In 1942, Tina Modotti died under very suspicious circumstances. Her old friend Diego Rivera was convinced that she was murdered because of her political activities. Regardless, Tina Modotti was undoubtedly one of the most fascinating, passionate, talented, and visionary women of the 20th century.

I’d like to conclude with what is considered Tina’s most famous photograph. It’s titled simply Roses. In 1991, it was sold at auction at Sotheby’s for $165, 000, the highest price ever paid for a photograph up to that time:

modotti_roses

Photography friends of Museworthy. Beauty. Art. Nudity. Images. And, most importantly, life subjects:

Exposed for the Shadows

Fluffytek

Terrell Neasley

Brooke Lynne

Michael Vasquez

10 thoughts on “A Life in Visuals – Tina Modotti, Politics, and the Power of Photography

  1. Rog says:

    Attraction from varied blog readers… simply because you teach us stuff we may not know.

  2. ColdSilverMoon says:

    This post illustrates why we keep coming back, Claudia. We can go to lots of web pages to see art, lots and lots of places to see nudity (artistic or otherwise), but we come here to enjoy your passion for your role as muse. I really appreciate that you love art modeling and are so good at it. It is a passion that shines through all your posts and comments. You are an excellent model because you understand it and you love it, and that inspires me to be a better model as well.

    This article is very interesting. Thanks for sharing about Tina Modotti’s life and her pictures. Like you, she was a very beautiful woman who boldly and unashamedly embraced the natural beauty given to her by God, and used that beauty to convey the inner vitality of her soul. She certainly looks like you, Claudia, in spirit as much as physical features…

  3. Actually personality has a lot to do with it, that and your passion for the arts. I find your blog to be intelligent and thoughtful, the detail that you go into it is phenomenal . Few other site can combine the mixture with humor and mirth quite like you bring to your blog. Thank you so much for adding my name to your roster of photographers.

  4. Great post, as usual. And thanks for mentioning my blog. I’m flattered to be in such great company.

  5. lkwinter says:

    Celebration of creativity, and of course your fabulous personality, though I could probably write an entire essay on why I visit; there’s so many reasons, learning and interacting with a great person among many. What can I say, you’re fascinating and down to earth all at the same time, but dear me, I’ve gone and rambled…

    Speaking of photos, I can’t tell if you look like her cause I’ve only seen two photos of you; do you have a link to a photo page or something? Or are most images of you done by artists?

  6. artmodel says:

    Rog, if I have “taught” anybody anything, I am deeply honored :-)

    ColdSilverMoon, thank you so much for your unbelievably kind words. Thank you for recognizing my passion. You always do.

    Michael, you describe the blog so well! Thank you. I appreciate your words, and am so happy to have you here with us!

    Dave, thanks. You deserve the mention, and then some!

    lkwinter, I am speechless – and that’s tough to do :lol: You’re a doll. Thank you, thank you for saying such incredibly nice things. As for photos of me, no I don’t have a page, but might post some stupid snapshots soon. You can get a good look at my mug!

  7. Brian says:

    Claudia,

    As was always the case, you (and your blog) have opened up entire new worlds of experience to me. You are a fantastic teacher and I have learned a lot from reading your posts. The art within, and your particular slant, is a slice of life that I rarely get to enjoy. Quite frankly, I think you have a potential money maker here…just something to consider.

    Brian

  8. artmodel says:

    Brian,

    What generous and flattering comments! I can’t tell you how much I am moved by them. Coming from you especially, they mean a lot. If I “opened up entire new worlds of experience” for you, then I am beyond words.

    As for your last point, I have considered it only because of feedback like yours. People have been suggesting it to me. Gosh, I don’t know! It’s so hard for me to imagine about me and my little blog :-) But hey, we’ll see!

    Thank you, Brian.

    Claudia

  9. Hello Claudia – what a great post on Modotti (my favourite – along with Lee Miller – of the women photographers). Will be back when I have time to enjoy your other posts. best wishes for ’09 – Kate

  10. artmodel says:

    Kate,

    Thanks for stopping by and for posting a comment. I’m glad you enjoyed this post on Tina. Her life was so powerful and complicated I was worried I wouldn’t do a good job. But your approval means a lot.

    Yes, I love Lee Miller too. Another fascinating figure in the visual arts. I will try to get to her also.

    Do come back when you can!

    Claudia

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