Tina Modotti

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Edward Weston : Portrait Tina Modotti (1921)

Tina Modotti , actually Assunta Adelaide Luigia Modotti Mondini , (born August 16, 1896 in Udine , Italy , † January 6, 1942 in Mexico City ) was an actress , photographer and revolutionary . Her common nickname Tina is a shortened form of her first name, Assuntina .



Tina Modotti was the second of six children of Giuseppe Modotti, a worker who got through life as a mechanic and carpenter, and the seamstress Assunta Mondini. When she was two years old, the poor family moved to Klagenfurt in search of work. Whether Tina Modotti already attended school in Carinthia, in Ferlach , or only after her return to Udine in 1905, is controversial.

Shortly after the family returned to Udine, their father, a militant socialist, left to see his brother, who had emigrated to the United States in Pennsylvania . Although Tina Modotti was a good student, at the age of twelve she had to give up high school and go to work as a seamstress to help support the family. At the same time she helped her uncle Pietro Modotti in his photo studio, who taught her the basics of photography. In 1911, her older sister, Mercedes, went to see her father, who was now in San Francisco . Two years later, Tina Modotti also set out and in June 1913 embarked in Genoa for the USA, not yet 17 years old.

Moved to the United States

After Tina Modotti traveled alone to the USA after her father and older sister in 1913, she first worked as a seamstress in San Francisco, made batiks and made small appearances on stages in San Francisco's “Little Italy”.

In 1915 she met the Canadian painter and poet Roubaix del 'Abrie Richey ( Robo ), whom she married in 1917. From 1918 the couple lived in Los Angeles , where Modotti starred in three films from 1920. She was the favorite model of renowned photographer Edward Weston from around 1921 and became his lover in October 1921.

Roubaix del 'Abrie went to Mexico in 1921. Tina wanted to join him in 1922, but he died of smallpox two days before her arrival on February 9th.

During her stay, Tina was fascinated by the “light-filled” country, its artists and the general atmosphere of optimism. When her father died soon afterwards in San Francisco, she returned there for a short time and at the end of the year wrote and published the verse and prose volume The Book of Robo in memory of her husband .

The time in Mexico

Julio Antonio Mella on his deathbed, 1929
Concha Michel, 1923
Stairs, Mexico City, 1924
Two women from Tehuantepec
Rene d'Harnoncourt puppet, 1929
Woman from Tehuantepec , ca.1929
The Puppeteer's Hands , 1929

In late July 1923 Tina Modotti, Edward Weston and his eldest son Chandler moved to Mexico. It was agreed that Modotti would take care of Weston's studio and housekeeping and in return learn the photography trade. Weston's wife and three other children remained in the United States.

Two months after their arrival in Mexico, the couple settled in Mexico City, where the two moved in the post-revolutionary bohemia, among artists such as the muralists David Alfaro Siqueiros , Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco and the photographers Manuel and Lola Álvarez Bravo . The “three great” painters founded the revolutionary magazine El Machete in 1924 , which in 1928 became the organ of the Partido Comunista Mexicano (PCM).

In 1924, Modotti presented her work together with Weston for the first time in an exhibition. The opening took place in the presence of the President. Her photographs from this period, influenced by Weston's style, are now selling at top prices. During short stays in San Francisco in 1925 and 1926, she visited her mother, who had meanwhile become ill, met the photographer Dorothea Lange and acquired a Graflex , which was the most popular camera among America's press photographers at the time, and which was far more handy than Weston's camera. Back in Mexico, she toured the central highlands for three months to collaborate with Weston on the artwork for Anita Brenner's book on the roots of contemporary Mexican art, Idols Behind Altars .

In 1926 the couple separated and Weston went back to the United States. Modotti had a relationship with the communist painter Xavier Guerrero , who soon after went to the Moscow Lenin School . She joined the PCM in 1927, worked for the Sandinista movement Manos fuera de Nicaragua and took part in demonstrations for Sacco and Vanzetti , where she met the Italian revolutionary and agent of the Comintern Vittorio Vidali .

She continued to make a living from portrait photography, but also worked for Forma magazine , the radical New Masses in the United States, which also reprinted one of Guerrera's translated articles on revolutionary art, and for Horizonte . Her circle of acquaintances now also included the photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo , the writer John Dos Passos , the actress Dolores Del Rio and the young Frida Kahlo (some sources note that it was Tina who introduced Frida to Rivera). From September 1928 she had an intense love affair with the emigrated Cuban revolutionary Julio Antonio Mella . At that time, her political commitment was already clearly expressed in her photos. When Mella was shot dead in front of her eyes on January 10, 1929, newspaper suspicions linked her to the murder. It is unclear whether she turned down a job as a photographer at the Museo Nacional, which she was offered a little later, in protest against the character assassination or for other reasons. In any case, she went to Tehuantepec for a few months and documented the lives of ordinary people there. In June, the communist party was banned in Mexico. The opening of the Modotti exhibition in the Autonomous University of Mexico City on December 3, 1929 turned into a political demonstration, both because of the political explosiveness of the pictures (many of them from Tehuantepec) and because of the provocative presentation by the painter David Alfaro Siqueiros .

The Mexican Folkways magazine published Modotti's manifesto Sobre la fotografia (About Photography) at the end of 1929 .

Expulsion from Mexico and residence in the Soviet Union

An unsuccessful assassination attempt on the Mexican President Pasqual Ortiz Rubio on February 5, 1930 was the pretext to arrest the photographer. Her fate was initially unknown abroad, and she was still missing at the beginning of March 1930. Although it could not be proven that she was involved, she was expelled. Together with Vidali she arrived on the steamer Edam in Rotterdam , then went to Berlin, where she met Bohumír Šmeral , the former first chairman of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and the reporter Egon Erwin Kisch, as well as the photographer Lotte Jacobi , in whose studio she made her Could exhibit pictures from Mexico.

She worked as a photographer again, the Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung published her pictures several times, including a cover picture with Modotti's portrait of Mella.

In October, however, she decided to go to Moscow , where she met again with Vidali, whom she referred to as "her husband" when she applied to the Executive Committee of the Communist International in 1932 . Soon afterwards she gave up photography, allegedly throwing her camera in the Moscow River , working for the International Red Aid as a translator for foreign press reports and also writing articles herself. From that time on, at least through Vidali, she was intertwined with the secret service. Her work took her to Vienna , Warsaw , Madrid and Paris in 1935 .

Spanish Civil War

From July 1936, she was back in Madrid under the name Maria , together with Vidali, who was Comandante Carlos J. Contreras of the Fifth Regiment. In the following three years she worked in the medical service, at times under Dr. Norman Bethune .

In 1937 she helped prepare the International Congress of Intellectuals Against Fascism in Valencia and, together with Carlos / Vittorio , prepared the publication of Miguel Hernández 's collection of poems Viento del Pueblo . She met with Robert Capa , Gerda Taro , Ernest Hemingway , Antonio Machado , Dolores Ibárruri , Rafael Alberti , André Malraux , who were participating in the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War . In preparation for the Congreso Nacional de la Solidaridad , she stayed in Madrid in 1938. After the civil war was lost, she arrived in Paris with Vidali. Your request to the party to be allowed to work underground in Italy was not granted.

Back in Mexico

Mexico's new President Lázaro Cárdenas overturned the deportation order, and she and Vidali returned to Mexico City after the US rejected an application for asylum. She was now living rather poorly on translations, worked for the Alleanza Internazionale Giuseppe Garibaldi and took little part in social life. Occasionally she met the émigré writers Anna Seghers and Constancia de la Mora .

On the night of January 5th to 6th, 1942, she died of a heart attack in a taxi. In public opinion, fueled by Rivera, Vidali was suspected of killing his former comrade-in-arms on Stalin's behalf, but suicide was also rumored. A poem by Pablo Neruda , published as an obituary in the newspapers, helped to smooth things over. Tina Modotti was buried in the celebrity cemetery Panteón Civil de Dolores . Under the bas-relief with the portrait created by Leopoldo Méndez , the first verses of Neruda's poem are carved into the tombstone.

Works (selection)

  • Photos as a weapon of RH agitation , in: MOPR. International Red Aid magazine for struggle and work , March 1932, pp. 10-11.
  • The bloodstream of the 1000 murdered , in: MOPR. International Red Aid magazine for struggle and work , April 1932, pp. 23–24.

Portrait photographs

Solo exhibitions (selection)

  • 1989: Biel, Photoforum Pasquart, Tina Modotti .
  • 2014: St. Gallen, Museum of History and Ethnology, Tina Modotti. Emigrant, photographer, revolutionary.
  • 2015: Retrospective , Oct. 2015.-Feb. 2016, Udine


  • 1920: The Tiger's Coat
  • 1921: Riding With Death
  • 1922: I Can Explain

Still image and posters The Tiger's Coat


  • Frida Kahlo and Tina Modotti. Whitechapel Art Gallery, London 1982 (exhibition catalog; in German: Mark Francis (eds.): Frida Kahlo and Tina Modotti. Verlag Neue Critique, Frankfurt am Main 1982, ISBN 3-8015-0180-9 ).
  • Patricia Albers: Shadows, Fire, Snow. The Life of Tina Modotti. Clarkson N. Potter, New York NY 1999, ISBN 0-609-60069-9 (in German: Schatten, Feuer, Schnee. The life of Tina Modotti. List, Munich 2000, ISBN 3-471-77039-9 ), or "Life struggles in me". Tina Modotti. List, Munich 2001, ISBN 3-548-60053-0 (comprehensive research, with detailed notes and index).
  • Letizia Argenteri: Tina Modotti: Between Art and Revolution. Yale University Press, New Haven 2003, ISBN 0-300-09853-7
  • Christiane Barckhausen : Tina Modotti. Truth and legend of a controversial woman. Biography . 3. Edition. Neues Leben, Berlin 1991, ISBN 3-355-00621-1 (with time table, listing of photos and writings by Tina Modotti plus person index).
  • Christiane Barckhausen (Ed.): Tina Modotti. Life - Work - Writings. Agimos-Verlag, Kiel 1996, ISBN 3-931903-02-8 .
  • Christiane Barckhausen: Tina Modotti. Divide the moon into three parts. Wiljo Heinen, Berlin, 2012, ISBN 978-3-939828-88-4 (biographical sketch).
  • Ángel de la Calle: Modotti. A woman of the 20th century. Rotbuch-Verlag, Berlin 2011, ISBN 978-3-86789-137-0 .
  • Giuliana Muscio:  Saltarini Modotti, Assunta. In: Raffaele Romanelli (ed.): Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani (DBI). Volume 89:  Rovereto – Salvemini. Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, Rome 2017.
  • Elena Poniatowska : Tinísima. Novela. Ediciones Era, Mexico 1992, ISBN 968-411-305-6 (in German: Tinissima: Roman. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1996, ISBN 3-518-40816-X ).
  • Reinhard Schultz (Ed.): Tina Modotti. Photographs and documents (= Series Art and History. Vol. 2). Social archive e. V., Berlin 1989 (catalog book for the exhibition of the same name by the Social Archives Berlin e.V.).
  • Reinhard Schultz (Ed.): Tina Modotti. Your photographic work. Your life. Your movie. Zweiausendeins, Frankfurt am Main, 2005, ISBN 3-86150-631-9 (incl. DVD: The Tiger's Coat ).
  • Tina Modotti. Photographs of a revolutionary. Wiljo Heinen, Berlin and others 2012, ISBN 978-3-939828-86-0 (illustrated book; texts by Christiane Barckhausen and Reinhard Schultz).

Web links

Commons : Tina Modotti  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Modotti's photographic work

Tina Modotti and Diego Rivera


  1. Portraits of Klagenfurt power women. In: kaernten.orf.at. March 11, 2021, accessed March 17, 2021 .
  2. ^ A b Giuliana Muscio:  Saltarini Modotti, Assunta. In: Raffaele Romanelli (ed.): Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani (DBI). Volume 89:  Rovereto – Salvemini. Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, Rome 2017.
  3. The couple may have just pretended to be married. The Modotti biographer Patricia Albers was unable to find any evidence of this marriage despite an extensive file search in California and Oregon.
  4. The 13-year-old Chandler Weston, about whom little is otherwise known, was probably (also) taken along as his father's assistant. He was replaced in 1925 by the second son, Brett Weston, who already laid the foundation for his own important career as a photographer in Mexico.
  5. White Terror in Mexico. In:  Die Rote Fahne , March 5, 1930, p. 6 (online at ANNO ).Template: ANNO / Maintenance / drf
  6. ^ Christiane Barckhausen: Tina Modotti. Dividing the moon into three parts , Berlin 2012.
  7. Tina Modotti (1896–1942) - photographer, revolutionary and internationalist. nadir.org
  8. See Letizia Argenteri, Tina Modotti: Between Art and Revolution , New Haven 2003, p. 187
  9. Modotti, Tina fotostiftung.ch (accessed on December 31, 2016)
  10. See Anna Seghers, Our friends say. Obituary for Tina Modotti. In: Martin Hielscher (Ed.), Fluchtort Mexico , Hamburg / Zurich 1992
  11. Argenteri, p. 195
  12. Patricia Albers, Shadows, Fire, Snow. The Life of Tina Modotti , New York 1999, p. 331
  13. Tina Modotti's biography in the online work on historical photography in Switzerland, fotoCH, accessed on September 26, 2020.
  14. Monica Boirar : Tina Modotti - émigré, photographer, revolutionary . In: Fotointern, November 8, 2014, accessed September 26, 2020.
  15. Tina Modotti: una retrospettiva svela la fotografa udinese , accessed on December 31, 2016