Tina Modotti
By: William Nericcio | Categories: Activism, Art, HiLo Heroes

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.


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).



Chicano public intellectual William "Memo" Nericcio runs the Cultural Studies MA program (MALAS) at San Diego State University. His book Tex[t]-Mex: Seductive Hallucinations of the "Mexican" in America (2007), is in its second printing and is prowling the corridors of academe in the guise of a traveling show, Mextasy. He also publishes the Textmex Galleryblog.