Tina Modotti (1986 – 1942): Italian-born photographer Tina Modotti’s contribution to the aesthetics of photography has always been somewhat eclipsed by her “non-normative” lifestyle and her liaisons with well-known artists and revolutionaries of her day. This in turn, is eclipsed by her stunning beauty which she found to be both a help and a hindrance. With her career as a photographer intertwined with political activism, and sometimes intrigue (eventually leading to her involvement with the Communist Party) Modotti’s works are simultaneously a work of art and and exposition of social realities. Modotti captured on film the struggles of the working poor in Mexico, Germany, the Soviet Union,, Italy, and Spain. Modotti, in addition to her acclaim as a photographer, also appeared in several plays and silent films during the late 1910’s and early 20’s. She also worked for a while as an artist’s model. Modotti was introduced to photography at a young age by her uncle in Italy who had a studio and her father who had a studio in San Francisco, to which the family had emigrated. It was upon meeting and becoming a model (and later, lover) for photographer Edward Weston and his creative partner Margrethe Mather Modotti’s interest in photography took off.
For me, Tina Modotti’s influence comes from how she tried to use her photography to both document the plight of the working poor and to influence social activists to bring about change – in others words, both the photographer and the photograph became a tool for social change.
A bit of trivia: The singer the singer Madonna is a major collector of Modotti’s works, so much so that she auctioned off her 1963 Mercedes-Benz in order to raise funds for the 1996 Tina Modotti exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
[More on Mototi’s life (Wikipedia)]