Tina Modotti, photographies 1924-1929



Fascinated by the lives and work of women artists of the past, Louise Bédard developed several choreographic works in relation to this theme. Having started the creation process for the duet Elles, which was already being inspired by Tina Modotti, Louise Bédard happened to meet independent curator Lucie Bureau. She was conducting a long term research project on women artists and photographers of the beginning of the last century, which led to exhibitions like Ella Maillart, Voyages 1930-1939; Tina Modotti, de la passion mexicaine 1924-1930; Les femmes photographes néerlandaises 1930-1954; and Les femmes photographes québécoises et canadiennes 1840-1950. Their mutual interest in the heritage of an exceptional photographer such as Modotti is what led them conceive the exhibition Tina Modotti 1924-1929. This marriage between dance and photography is part of what made Elles an important artistic manifestation and one that appealed to a wide audience.

The exhibition was presented in the following galleries :

  • Foreman Art Gallery of Bishop’s University, Lennoxville : October 9 to November 4, 2002
  • Maison de la culture du Plateau-Mont-Royal, Montréal : November 8 to December 8, 2002
  • Centre des Migrations, Montmagny : April 1 to 18, 2004
  • Galerie d’art l’Union-Vie, Centre culturel de Drummondville : January 10 to February 20, 2005

For this special event, an exhibition catalogue was published under the title Elles, Tina Modotti, photographies 1924-1929. The 53-page booklet is comprised of photos and texts, in English and French, by Louise Bédard, Lucie Bureau and Elena Poniatowska. (ISBN 2-980-7783-0-3)

Contact us to obtain a copy.


Modotti’s photographic production lasted barely one decade, starting around 1924 and ending in the early thirties. There was nothing to suggest that this young Italian arriving in San Francisco in 1913, to join her father, would one day become famous. Born in Udine in 1896, she departs, leaving brothers and sisters behind, and an impoverished homeland, ravaged by conflicts with Austria. A luxuriant California awaits her, where artists, actors, poets, writers and photographers form a thriving scene. The setting is favourable to artistic creation.

In 1921 she met photographer Edward Weston and they moved together to Mexico City in 1923. She adopts the role of apprentice and assistant. Modotti quickly mastered the medium and developed a very personal style, both formally and technically. Weston’s influence was undeniable and Mexican avant-garde artists – muralists Rivera, Orozco, Siqueiros, and others – also helped to shape her artistic vision: a vision both tender and provocative, supported by formal research and a quest for the absolute.

Modotti’s early work was in the style of pure photography and precisionist of the American avant-garde. She perfected the specificity of the photographic rendering: geometrical, elementary, abstract compositions; extremely precise focus; play of texture, shadows, and light; familiar objects isolated and placed in a new perspective that gives rise to new perceptions of a reality that would otherwise remain banal. In 1924-1925 Modotti became interested in flowers and created a fascinating body of work that reflected an interior, paradisiacal world. Calla Lilies, Roses, Geranium, Flor de manita are works filled with sensitivity, coming from a peaceful world where nothing can disrupt the contemplative calmness of the artist in search of perfection. 


During the same period, swept up in the same photographic intensity, she produced Interior of Church, Arch, Sugar canes, Doors and Staircases in which she experimented with shot angles, detail, and closed-ups. With her acute vision and her elegance, she defined a practice in which new perceptions and a search for movement and tonality were combined with a constant concern for purity according to the rules of the Americans «new vision» in photography.

At the time, Mexico was undergoing a great cultural renewal, after centuries of colonial rule. This Mexican renaissance involved promoting “Mexicanity” in reaction to the exoticism that prevailed among Europeans, in order to breathe new life into traditional art.  Modotti befriends the muralists Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, Alfaro Siquieros. Their work was amongst the movement’s most apparent expression. Modotti emerges from her studio photographing the murals and modeling for some of these frescos. Her perspective clearly becomes more social and revolutionary.

As well, she broadened the field of her subject matter, exploring urban and industrial themes in more depth. In that series that includes, among others, Telephone wires, and Tank No 1, she clearly states her membership in this Mexican artistic current. She photographed street scenes: mothers and their children peasants demonstrating workers bowed under the weight of their loads. Modotti joins the communist party and becomes the official photographer of the newspaper El Machette, the party’s publication edited by left wing and avant-garde artist and intellectuals.  She produces a series of photographs in which her social preoccupations and formal research were amalgamated. Modotti’s art testifies to the social upheavals of the beginning of century. The photographer connected two seemingly opposed fields: politics and art. She assembled typical object of Mexican culture in compositions stripped of exoticism to illustrate an ideological standpoint.

Between 1926 and 1930, Modotti displays her political views and participates in all the debates raging in the Mexican society. When she photographs children, she forces the viewer, through a close-up shot, to confront the gaze of her young subjects. She probes their past and future. She avoids the trap of aestheticizing misery and embellishing poverty. She stays clear of subterfuges that could soften the picture.

In 1930, she is evicted from Mexico under the pretence that she plotted against the Mexican government. Far from renouncing her ideological views, she joined anti-fascists groups in Europe where she spent more than ten years engaged in resistance missions. In 1942, while returning to Mexico to visit a friend, she died of heart failure, at the age of 46, under circumstances that were viewed by some as suspicious.

Banner and slider > These pictures were taken during the “Tina Modotti – photographies 1924-1929″ exhibit at Maison de la culture du Plateau-Mont-Royal (exhibit held from November 8 to December 8, 2002). Photo credit : Lucie Bureau

Picture > Cover of the exhibition catalogue for “Elles, Tina Modotti, photographies 1924-1929″.