Tina Modotti (American (born Italy), 1896-1942)
Head of Christ, 1926
Gelatin silver print 9 1/2 in. x 6 3/4 in. (24.13 cm x 17.15 cm)
Crocker Art Museum, gift of Hardie C. Setzer1986.5.23
One of the most romantic figures of modern photography, Tina Modotti personified the adventurous and creative bohemian. An émigré, film actress, and spirited personality, Modotti was capable and mechanically inclined. She first traveled to Mexico in 1921 and returned in 1923 as Edward Weston’s apprentice after having decided to become a professional photographer. Her fluent Spanish and vivacious personality allowed the two artists immediate entrée into the elite circle of Mexico City artists surrounding Jean Charlot, Xavier Guerrero, and Diego Rivera. Weston and Modotti also spent their first months there exploring the city’s magnificent colonial churches and nearby archeological sites. Weston taught Modotti how to make contact prints. Like Weston, she began with platinum papers, but moved to gelatin silver in 1926. Modotti’s earliest prints include portraits of Weston, their friends, and architectural subjects. As Weston progressed toward his signature style, Modotti too made carefully composed studies emphasizing formal relationships, especially of line and tonal contrast. By 1926, her photographs attracted the attention of Frances Toor, publisher of Mexican Folkways, who hired Modotti as contributing editor. Toor sent her into the city’s streets after such pathos-laden images as Head of Christ, a stirring example of the Mexican folk vernacular. Having established herself professionally in Mexico, Modotti remained throughout the decade, but also began to receive broader acclaim for her work and was given an exhibition at the Berkeley Art Museum in 1929. Although she was expelled from Mexico in 1930 for her political activism, Modotti was able to return to Mexico City in 1939.