EST. 2009

August 16, 2017

That Moment's Rest


THERE'S A MEMORABLE SCENE IN THE 2002 FILM FRIDA in which actresses Salma Hayek and Ashley Judd engage in a seductive dance. It was at a party hosted by Judd's character, photographer Tina Modotti, who was a prominent figure in the avant-garde circles of 1920s Mexico. She also photographed the image above.

An Italian immigrant attracted to the performing arts, Modotti worked as an actress and model in California, appearing on stage, as well as in film. She met photographer Edward Weston in Los Angeles, who became her lover and photography mentor. The two opened a portrait studio in Mexico City, where Modotti also photographed many of the murals painted by Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco.

While Weston's photographs were more abstract in style, Modotti's images were influenced by her political views, and her sympathy towards the peasant class. One of her most recognized photographs feature an anonymous worker's hands, resting on a tool. The powerful image captures a pause from hard labor, while suggesting the imminent resumption of work. This particular photograph has been exhibited across Mexico and the United States since 1995, after the re-discovery of Modotti's prints shined a new light on her legacy. In 2013, the photo was shown at London's Royal Academy of Arts.

Beyond photography, Modotti was an activist for the Comintern, spending over a decade entangled in murder investigations and exile. In 1939, she returned to Mexico under a pseudonym, and in 1942, died from heart failure on her way home from a dinner at poet Pablo Neruda's home. He composed her epitaph: Pure your gentle name, pure your fragile life; bees, shadows, fire, snow, silence and foam; combined with steel and wire and pollen to make up your firm and delicate being.

Modotti's body of photographic work reflects two distinct periods in her career, which have been described as romantic, and revolutionary. I personally think photographs from both periods share a certain tranquility. You wouldn't expect it after reading about Modotti's tumultuous involvements, but passion can take many forms across an individual's varied pursuits. As in Neruda's tribute, Modotti was both a firm and delicate being.

Hands resting on tool by Tina Modotti, getty.edu

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