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Edward Weston & Tina Modotti. Love, Photos, Politics, Life

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Edward Weston’s diaries – his “Daybooks” – were part of my self-education as a photographer. I was 31. After a mid-life crisis, Weston was a perfect role model for me. He had a genius eye for pictures and a roving eye for the most interesting and beautiful women. What other combination could have helped me make my momentous decision to walk away from a hellish 11 years with the State of NY as a psychiatric social worker? Actually almost anything could have talked me into leaving the bureaucracy; but his stories of beauty, sex, travel, love and pictures were perfect. Nor did I ever regret the decision even when, like Weston, the grocery bills had to be limited to match a dwindling pocketbook. His diary entries of the price of avocados in Pasadena in the 20’s may be dated but his stories of the great names for pulquerias with photos to go with them is amusing history.( Pulque is a highly intoxicating cactus-fermented drink that still lives on in Mexico). The grocery lists and money problems make the stories real.

I learned the technique of photography by reading Ansel Adams’ 5 book series on the basics of photography; but Weston made me want to take the pictures, walk the walk, live the life. The “Daybooks” are among my losses from leaving the US. But they leave an indelible enough memory from the reading and re-reading of them. The Weston “Nudes” book by Charis Wilson, the last of his wives; was another treasure.

There may be rough times in his diary entries, but there is always the love for his sons and an immense love for life , for friends, for women and; above all, for photography.

One romance that has always captured my heart was with Tina Modotti who was his lover for years and also became a photographer. They journeyed to Mexico during revolutionary times and into the renaissance I wrote about with “The Mexican Muralists” here in Blogcritics a few weeks ago. He and Modotti were involved with the group led by the funding and facilitating Minister of Education, Jose Vasconcelos. Weston and Modotti became part of the group with Diego Rivera, Dr. Atl, Josè Clemente Orozco, Jean Charlot, Miguel and Rosa Covarrubias, Nahui Olìn and others.

The work that Weston took from his Mexican experience is magnificent stuff: a toilet turned into total beauty and abstraction, flowers , women like his portrait of “Tina” c. 1925 that I reproduce on my photoblog. My copies are gone now with the rest of my library so I am working on the story of Tina Modotti from a small, Mexican book( a series of 5×7 books on Mexican artists put out by Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y Las Artes y Instituto Nacional de Anthropologia e Historia.) It is “Tina Modotti: Vivir y morir en Mèxico” ©1999 by Antonio Saborit Garcia Peña.

Like most other books here my copy has molded over the past few years. It is the tropics and I have lost some Nikon lenses as well. Weston tells the story of having his eyes checked and worrying about blindness only to find a lens for his 8×10 view camera to be out of whack.

I do get to learn that Modotti died “en forma extraña y repentina en un automòvil” (in a strange and sudden form) on January 7, 1942. Weston was long years back in the US; perhaps already shooting Charis Wilson from whom he made some of the finest nudes I have seen. $40 for the book Weston “Nudes” is more than I like to pay for books but well worth it.

Modotti was, in 1942 “en el mundo de la intriga polìtica…” (in the world of political intrigue) after her involvement with Trotsky and his murder in Mexico City. She came originally from Udine, Italy with her family and “Todo parece indicar que Tina Modotti era una belleza màs de las que con su juventud, sensualidad …”.(Everyone apparently indicates that she was a beauty with her youth and sensuality…) and she appears in San Francisco theater and then in the silent film industry with at least 3 films in 1920-22. In ’23 she and Weston go to Mexico and both do some incredible work. In 1926 Weston goes back to L.A. and in 1930 Tina is expelled from Mexico for her political activities. She returns later. Weston comes back too; but they are not together and the experience he has is not the same.

The Daybooks and books of Weston’s pictures, stories of his romances and his thoughts on photography as an artform are wonderful. Modotti was a character and a political player in a time of foment. She also made some powerful pictures. Their stories are the stories of love, of the times, of the politics of the times, and of the development of themselves as artists and of artists in general.

I recommend the “Daybooks”, Westons’ “Nudes” and books on Modotti and on their relationship. Love stories with pictures. Diaries with love stories. Picture books filled with life.

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About hfdratch

  • sfgirl94115

    i just had the pleasure of viewing a weston/modotti exhibit at the SFMoMa…gorgeous works, such passion and art..i agree with your assessment…cheers

  • maggie

    Tina modotti will and will always ! be part of all us In mexico. she will always be remember as a hero and part of the revolution of mexico !
    VIva TINa modotti
    Viva L’italia ed anche messico!!!!