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The Life Of Artist Tina Modotti

2467 words - 10 pages

In late spring of 1926, the National Autonomous University of Mexico offered Modotti’s friend and (soon-to-be-famous) author, Anita Brenner, a contract for a book entitled Mexican Decorative Arts. Brenner was an integral figure in Modotti’s artist and bohemian group in Mexico City in the 1920s. A Mexican born, Texas-educated journalist, she returned to Mexico and became a key member of the indigenismo movement in the 1920s, as well as a leftist radical (Albers SFS 127). She immediately recruited Edward Weston as the project photographer for the book. Weston insisted that Brenner assign Modotti to the project as his partner. In the book, Brenner sought to provide American readers an accessible look (she wrote the book in English) at the realities of the Mexican Revolution. It was to have three sections: the syncretism of pre-Hispanic and Catholic beliefs and practices, popular arts and religion of the Mexican Colonial period, and the Mexican Renaissance artists: the tres grandes, Muralists Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siquieros, as well as Francisco Goitia, and Jean Charlot, all of whom were friends or acquaintances of Weston and Modotti. Brenner also planned a second book, The Mexican Renaissance. She eventually consolidated the two books into Idols Behind Altars, The Story of the Mexican Spirit, published in 1929 (Albers DV 31).
Brenner hired Modotti and Weston to create 200 photographs of items and architecture throughout Mexico, at places indicated by Brenner. To Brenner the assignment offered a religious portfolio of what Mexican life was and is. Some of the arts and crafts Brenner proposed to be photographed comprised carved polychrome Madonnas, colonial era ex-votos, painted calabashes, Catholic altars, Jaliscan pottery, petate-lined huts, saddlery, carved chairs, and reproductions of paintings by the Renaissance artists (Albers SFS 158). The photographers' journey included a month’s tour in the states of Puebla and Oaxaca, and a second month in Michoacan, Jalisco, Guanajuato, and Queretaro. They left for Puebla on June 3, 1926. Weston's son, Brett, accompanied them on the trip.
On the first leg of their journey they traveled from Puebla to the rugged southern state of Oaxaca, where Hispanic Catholicism intermingled with the rich culture of the Zapotec Indians. They traveled to mountain villages to photograph sixteenth century churches, and visited the ancient pyramids at Etla where a hostile local police chief nearly arrested them. In Oaxaca City they were enchanted with the local black pottery, and spent hours bartering in the craft markets for goods. Modotti used her Italian identity to foil vendors' anti-American feelings. After returning to Mexico City to make prints, they set out again for a month of travel through Western Mexico - to Michoacán and Patzcuaro (Hooks 123). The trip provided numerous adventures, but Modotti and Weston felt the pressure of the immense job they had agreed to perform. They...

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