By Show and Tell
By Bree Davies
By Bree Davies
By Cory Casciato
By Emilie Johnson
By Robin Edwards
By Bree Davis
By Josiah M. Hesse
Broadly speaking, Modotti produced three types of images: straightforward portraits, intimate scenes of people at work, and sweeping vistas of village life. While all three types are seen in some depth in this show, it's her portraits that are downright eye-dazzling.
"Woman, Mexico," from 1925, is a first-rate example of the type. In this photo, a woman's face fills the frame. Her expression is impassive, her eyeclosed. The tiny photo, the size of a snapshot, has a tremendous presence and, despite its proportions, a tremendous monumentality. These same characteristics are seen in other Modotti portraits, notably the stunning "Muchacho With Sombrero," from 1927, a shot of a peasant boy that appeared as a magazine cover, and 1929's "Woman of Tehuantepec," depicting a woman with a basket on her head.
Therese Mulligan, the curator of photography at Eastman House, observes in written notes posted on didactic panels throughout the show that Modotti's portraits have "a disarming immediacy." That's an understatement: Some are so striking, you'll freeze in your tracks.
The Westons, which are both more numerous and substantially larger, record many of the experiments the photographer undertook before arriving at his mature, final phase. Early examples of his classic type feature the sculptural qualities of the subject and exploit the objectness of the photo itself. A good example is "Piramide del Sol," from 1923 (in a 1950s reprint). Even more related to Weston's archetypal style are several female nudes, including one of Modotti.
Another group of Weston photos provides a record of Mexican society, but not the same one Modotti was recording. Weston did portraits of the cultural luminaries of the Mexicanidad demimonde, including a group showing Rivera. One very un-Westonesque image is "Frederico Marin, Jean Charlot & Tina Modotti," a group portrait from 1925 in which these art-world dandies are sitting with their backs to Weston. Charlot is seen coyly and erotically drawing with a brush on Modotti's bare shoulder. (Charlot, a painter associated with Rivera, would later briefly run the now closed Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center School.)
Weston built his career on his experiences in Mexico and became more famous with the passing years. Modotti, though, was mostly forgotten -- at least in this country (she has always been famous in Mexico). If Modotti was remembered in the U.S. at all, it was as one of Weston's live-in lovers and his most famous model. This attitude, considering the quality of her work, shows us the true meaning of patronizing, and it was appropriately taken apart twenty years ago by a generation of feminist art historians hell-bent on re-evaluating artists like Modotti.
So Mexicanidad not only provides locals with the chance to see some of Weston's most important images, but it also reveals that Modotti was more than just his girlfriend.