Bonnie Hayman. Tina Modotti's Mexico: A Tale of Love & Revolution. ISBN: 0-915745-40-2. $29.95. Hardbound.
Hayman situates Tina Modotti (1896-1942) profoundly within her social period from her 1913 emigration to San Francisco to a full-fledged member of the intellectual wing of the Mexican Communist Party. She is one of the most important contemporary women of Mexico. She became the lover of Cuban revolutionary Julio Antonio Mella and when he was murdered, Modotti became the main suspect. When a failed assassination attempt was made against the Mexican president, Pascual Ortiz Rubio, she was accused and deported.
She returned to Mexico many years later and lived alone in a small cottage until her mysterious death in a taxi at age 46. Octavio Paz claimed that Tina Modotti belonged “more to the history of passions than to the history of ideologies,” Hayman propounds that Modotti lived a full life of her own choice, and that politics, ideology, and history were never paramount to her own personal life—an indescribable story of fame, style, gossip and turmoil.
She wrote her own biography then like a liberated woman of the 1960s, far ahead of any one of her contemporaries. In the end she was a visionary, a trend setter, a model of womanhood, which would be emulated many decades later. Andrea Alessandra Cabello, M.D, Editor University of California, Berkeley
“This book details the evolution of a very evocative and fascinating woman. Tina Modotti was truly a free spirit in every sense of the word. Author Bonnie Hayman does an inspiring job of showing Tina’s independent spirit, integrity, and search for a meaningful life.” Shanna Mota “Tina Modotti is a great read. Bonnie Hayman has captured her essence and presented a colorful picture of a very interesting woman.” Barbara Jung.
Bonnie Hayman, the author of The Cult of the Jaguar, has written the most important account of Tina Modotti’s life in Mexico and the United States. Hayman’s Tina is a passionate woman seeking love and sexual freedom within her political and ideological activism, her life among the emerging Mexican nationalist intellectuals, including Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and others. Hayman brings a Tina demanding justice for the Mexican disenfranchised and forgotten majority—in direct conflict with the Mexican government and ruling elites— but living, despite of it, a full life as a woman and a lover.
Tina Modotti Biography:
Modotti was born Assunta Adelaide Luigia Modotti Mondini in Udine, Friuli, Italy. In 1913, at the age of 16, she immigrated to the United States to join her father in San Francisco, California.
Attracted to the performing arts supported by the Italian émigré community in the Bay Area, Modotti experimented with acting. She appeared in several plays, operas, and silent movies in the late 1910s and early 1920s, and also worked as an artist's model. In 1918, she entered into a relationship with Roubaix "Robo" de l'Abrie Richey. Originally a farm boy from Oregon named Ruby, the artist and poet assumed the more bohemian name Roubaix. Modotti moved with him to Los Angeles in order to pursue a career in the motion picture industry. Although the couple cohabitated and lived as a "married couple", they were not married. Often playing the femme fatale, Modotti's movie career culminated in the 1920 film The Tiger's Coat. She had minor parts in two other films. The couple entered into a bohemian circle of friends. One of these fellow bohemians was Ricardo Gómez Robelo. Another was the photographer, Edward Weston.
Some have suggested that Modotti was introduced to photography as a young girl in Italy, where her uncle, Pietro Modotti, maintained a photography studio. Later in the U.S., her father briefly ran a similar studio in San Francisco. While in Los Angeles, she met the photographer Edward Weston and his creative partner Margrethe Mather. It was through her relationship with Edward Weston that Modotti developed as an important fine art photographer and documentarian. By 1921, Modotti was Weston's favorite model and, by October of that year, his lover. Ricardo Gómez Robelo became the head of Mexico's Ministry of Education's Fine Arts Department, and persuaded Robo to come to Mexico with a promise of a job and a studio. Robo left for Mexico in December 1921. Unaware of his affair with Tina, Robo took with him prints of Weston, hoping to mount an exhibition of his and Weston's work in Mexico. While she was on her way to be with Robo, Modotti received word of his death from smallpox on February 9, 1922. Devastated, Modotti arrived two days after his death. In March 1922, determined to see Robo's vision realized, she mounted a two week exhibition of Robo's and Weston's work at the National Academy of Fine Arts in Mexico City. She sustained a second loss with the death of her father which forced her return to San Francisco later in March 1922. On July 29, 1923, Modotti set sail for Mexico City with Weston and his son Chandler, leaving behind Weston's wife Flora and remaining three children. She agreed to run Weston's studio free of charge in return for his mentoring her in photography. Mexican photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo divided Modotti’s career as a photographer into two distinct categories: "Romantic" and "Revolutionary," with the former period including her time spent as Weston’s darkroom assistant, office manager and, finally, creative partner. Together they opened a portrait studio in Mexico City and were commissioned to travel around Mexico taking photographs for Anita Brenner’s book Idols Behind Altars.
The relative contributions of Modotti and Edward Weston to the project have been debated. Edward Weston's son, Brett Weston, who accompanied the two on the project, indicated that the photographs were taken by Edward Weston. In general, Edward Weston was moved by the landscape and folk art of Mexico to create abstract works, while Modotti was more captivated by the people of Mexico and blended this human interest with a modernist aesthetic. In Mexico, Modotti found a community of cultural and political "avant-gardists." She became the photographer of choice for the blossoming Mexican mural movement, documenting the works of José Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera. Her visual vocabulary matured during this period, such as her formal experiments with architectural interiors, flowers, and urban landscapes, and especially in her many lyrical images of peasants and workers. Indeed, her one-woman retrospective exhibition at the National Library in December 1929 was advertised as "The First Revolutionary Photographic Exhibition in Mexico." Modotti and Weston quickly gravitated toward the capital's bohemian scene, and used their connections to create an expanding portrait business. It was also during this time that Modotti met several political radicals and Communists, including three Mexican Communist Party leaders who would all eventually become romantically linked with Modotti: Xavier Guerrero, Julio Antonio Mella, and Vittorio Vidali. Starting in 1927, a much more politically active Modotti (she joined the Mexican Communist Party that year) found her focus shifting and more of her work becoming politically motivated. Around that period, her photographs began appearing in publications such as Mexican Folkways, Forma, and the more radically motivated El Machete, Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung (AIZ), and New Masses.
Life as an activist: During this same period, economic and political contradictions within Mexico and indeed much of Central and South America were intensifying and this included increased repression of political dissidents. On January 10, 1929, Modotti's comrade and companion Julio Antonio Mella was assassinated, ostensibly by agents of the Cuban government. Shortly thereafter an attempt was made on the Mexican President Pascual Ortiz Rubio. Modotti — who was a target of both the Mexican and Italian political police — was questioned about both crimes amidst a concerted anti-communist, anti-immigrant press campaign, that depicted "the fierce and bloody Tina Modotti" as the perpetrator. (A Catholic zealot, Daniel Luis Flores, was later charged with shooting Rubio.
José Magriñat was arrested for Mella's murder.) As a result of the anti-communist campaign by the Mexican government, Modotti was expelled from Mexico in February, 1930, and placed under guard on a ship bound for Rotterdam. The Italian government made concerted efforts to extradite her as a subversive national, but with the assistance of International Red Aid activists, she evaded detention by the fascist police. Traveling on a restricted visa that mandated her final destination as Italy, Modotti initially stopped in Berlin and from there visited Switzerland. She apparently intended to make her way into Italy and to join the anti-fascist resistance there. In response to the deteriorating political situation in Germany and her own exhausted resources, however, she followed the advice of Vittorio Vidali and moved to Moscow in 1931. After 1931, Modotti no longer photographed. Reports of later photographs are unsubstantiated. During the next few years she engaged in various missions on behalf of the International Workers' Relief organizations and the Comintern in Europe.
When the Spanish Civil War erupted in 1936, Vidali (then known as "Comandante Carlos") and Modotti (using the pseudonym "María") left Moscow for Spain, where they stayed and worked until 1939. She worked with the famed Canadian Dr. Norman Bethune (who would later invent the mobile blood unit) during the disastrous retreat from Málaga in 1937. In April 1939, following the collapse of the Republican movement in Spain, Modotti left Spain with Vidali and returned to Mexico under a pseudonym.
Death: In 1942, during a visit by her close friend, Swiss architect Hannes Meyer, Modotti died from heart failure in Mexico City under what is viewed by some as suspicious circumstances. After hearing about her death, Diego Rivera suggested that Vidali had orchestrated it. Modotti may have 'known too much' about Vidali's activities in Spain, which included a rumoured 400 executions. An autopsy showed that she died of natural causes, namely congestive heart failure. Her grave is located within the vast Panteón de Dolores in Mexico City. Poet Pablo Neruda composed Tina Modotti's epitaph, part of which can also be found on her tombstone, which also includes a relief portrait of Modotti by engraver Leopoldo Méndez. "
Bonnie Hayman. The Cult of Jaguar ISBN 0915745585. $25.95.