The Big Picture: Campesinos Unite in Tina Modotti’s Mexico

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The Italian-born silent-film star, photographer and model Tina Modotti took this picture in Mexico in 1927. She had moved to live full-time in Mexico City from Los Angeles four years earlier with her lover and fellow photographer Edward Weston and the pair of them became part of an artistic avant garde that included Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Modotti used her photographs to advance the cause of the campesinos – the mass of peasant farmers who demanded the agrarian reform they had fought for in the revolution and civil war of the previous decade. The headline of the newspaper here is a cry for fair redistribution: “All of the land, not pieces of the land!”

The newspaper El Machete had been founded by a group of artists and journalists under the slogan: “The machete is used to reap cane, kill snakes, end strife, and humble the pride of the impious rich.” Modotti had taken that message to heart, creating compositions like this one which conveyed, beautifully, both the unity of the campesinos – individually faceless under their traditional sombreros – and their subversive collective will. By 1927 she had split from Weston and was in a relationship with a Communist party leader, Xavier Guerrero.

The picture was included in Modotti’s only lifetime solo exhibition in Mexico City in 1929, which resulted in her being expelled from the country for refusing to renounce her seditious beliefs. It is included in a full retrospective of Modotti’s work at the Foam gallery in Amsterdam later this month. Modotti made very few pictures – after leaving Mexico she married another revolutionary in Moscow and gave up photography altogether, a fact that has given her work enormous value. An original print of this picture sold for $225,000 (£184,000) at Sotheby’s in New York in 2015.

Source : The Guardian