Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Art History


Linda Nochlin

Committee Members

Carol Armstrong

Rose-Carol Washton Long

Subject Categories

History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology


This dissertation is a close consideration of photographs by Tina Modotti (1896-1942), whose work marks the beginning of a modernist aesthetic in post-Revolutionary Mexico. Modotti's photographs are distinguished by a formal clarity coupled with incisive social content. Her work was informed by dominant modes of modernist photographic practice manifest in America and Europe in the 1920s.

This study sets out previously unknown biographical information on Modotti in Chapters I through IV. Modotti was among the many expatriate artists and intellectuals who settled in Mexico during the 1920s, when the country was undergoing a cultural Renaissance. This rebirth was stimulated by social reforms, which were the outcome of the Mexican Revolution.

Modotti went to Mexico from California, where she had lived since emigrating in 1913 from her birthplace, Udine, in Northern Italy. In Los Angeles, Modotti met a group of progressive artists and writers, the photographer Edward Weston among them. In 1923, Modotti and Weston moved to Mexico City, where they established a photographic studio together.

Chapters V through VIII set out Modotti's photographic career, which evolved in conjunction with her activism. Without abandoning a formalist aesthetic, similar in rigor to that of Weston's, Modotti attempted to merge art with politics, enlisting her photographic skills to express her radicalism. Modotti's photographs reflect her commitment to the promises of the Mexican Revolution and her photographs bear a relationship to the public art produced by her colleagues in Mexico's mural movement, her friends Diego Rivera, David Siqueiros and Jose Clemente Orozco.

Modotti turned her camera on the workers of Mexico and showed them to be the heart of a movement toward social and economic justice. After joining the Communist Party in 1927, Modotti's photographs became sharply critical of government policies that failed the objectives of the Revolution. In 1930 she was deported, and within a year, she gave up photography.

Appendices include genealogical information; an index to Tina Modotti (Mexico, 1942); lists of exhibitions; a checklist of her posthumous exhibition; and a working catalogue of her photographs.


Digital reproduction from the UMI microform.