Tina Modotti

By: William Nericcio
August 16, 2014

Portrait of Modotti by Edward Weston
Portrait of Modotti by Edward Weston

Model and photographer, radical political activist and bon vivant, the legacy of TINA MODOTTI (1896–1942) is not unlike Méret Oppenheim’s — whose modeling work with Man Ray is often foregrounded before her own sculpture and art. We tend to remember the Italian-born Modotti as Edward Weston’s model — see Nude on the Azotea (1924), for example — but her life and work behind the camera deserve lasting critical scrutiny. She defined the Mexican left (especially the muralists) with her documentarian’s eye, fought with the resistance in Spain, befriended Frida Kahlo, shared a bed with Kahlo’s husband Diego Rivera, and died young of congestive heart failure. I’m particularly taken with Modotti’s 1928 photo Mella’s Typewriter, which pictures her soon-to-be-assassinated lover’s (the Cuban Communist Party leader Julio Antonio Mella) writing machine — and in doing so, captures one medium pondering the nature of another. The photo, like Modotti’s life, is a synthesis of word, image, art, and revolution.

MORE ACTIVISTS: Mother Jones | Alexander Berkman | Eugene V. Debs | Tina Modotti | Big Bill Haywood | Lucy Stone | Antônio Conselheiro | Emmeline Pankhurst | Félix Fénéon | Meridel Le Sueur | Pierre-Joseph Proudhon | Zo d’Axa | Mikhail Bakunin | Voltairine de Cleyre | Emma Goldman | Will Allen | Rosa Luxemburg | Simone de Beauvoir | Émile Henry | Pancho Villa | Joe Hill | Margaret Sanger | Aldo Leopold | Screaming Lord Sutch | Nestor Makhno | Dorothy Day | Garry Kasparov | Adriano Olivetti | Mildred Harnack | Frederick Douglass | Murray Bookchin | George Orwell | Bayard Rustin | Abbie Hoffman | Ti-Grace Atkinson | Gloria Steinem | Rudolf Rocker | Stokely Carmichael | Angela Davis


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Charles Bukowski, Peter Saul, Hugo Gernsback, Georgette Heyer.

READ MORE about members of the Hardboiled Generation (1894-1903).