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Tina Modotti

Text from John Szarkowski, Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art

"Most of Tina Modotti's work that is known to the photography world was done in Mexico in the years 1923 through 1926, when she lived and worked with Edward Weston. She apparently continued to work after 1926, at least until 1930, when she was deported from Mexico for Communist activity.

"The photograph reproduced here is entitled "Staircase," but it is only in the most abstracted sense an architectural photograph; it is concerned with a different kind of structure, related perhaps to folded paper birds and geometric puzzles. It is a picture of space becoming pattern - a construction of lines and triangles stretched very tightly toward two dimensions - in which depth is both precisely described and subtly denied.

"Two technical aspects of the picture are interesting in terms of their relationship to Modotti's conception. The two-dimensionality of her picture has been strongly emphasized by the very heavy exposure of her negative, which has raised the values of the planes of the picture to a narrow range of light grays; only the thin straight lines of joinery are described as black. In addition, she has photographed her subject from a greater than normal distance (i.e., with a long focal-length lens), thus minimizing the effect of diminishing perspective. The pattern of the picture approaches the quality of an isometric projection - a perspective drawing made from an infinite distance.

"Although it is doubtless (or probably) irrelevant to the issue at hand, Modotti was surely one of the most fascinating women of her time, even without reference to her talent as an artist. She was an actress, a sometime revolutionary (by design or circumstance, or both), a great beauty, and a great mystery. The available evidence would suggest that everyone who crossed her path was profoundly impressed. Kenneth Rexroth identified her as a Kollontai type, and was terrified, but nevertheless called her the most spectacular person in Mexico City."


 


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