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Photo Synthesis

Interior of the Church Tower at Tepotzotlan (1924)

October 15, 2006|Colin Westerbeck

"Mexico as Muse: Tina Modotti and Edward Weston" will be on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art through Jan. 2, 2007

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In 1923, Edward Weston abandoned his Glendale portrait business and his marriage to run off to Mexico with Tina Modotti. She had gone from being an immigrant seamstress to making a minor sensation when cast as a Mexican peasant in a silent film, and there was also an element of playacting in the romance with Mexico that she and Weston would have for the next three years. She was even mistaken for a Mexican photographer, despite her Italian origins.

Weston taught her photography in Mexico; yet as this picture shows, her work wasn't derivative of his. The abstractness may have evoked his, but the eroticism was all her own. Visiting this church built in the high baroque style called Churrigueresque, they stayed, ironically, in the convent during Holy Week. Her photograph explores such architecture as if it were a scaly, gritty crevice of a lover's body, a secret place that only a lover could know.

Modotti was as passionate about everything in her life--left-wing politics, avant-garde art, other men--as Weston was about her. Her universal sensuality made men think, wrongly, that it was all directed at them. "Many men fell in love with her," friend Federico Marin said. "They even committed suicide, but it wasn't her fault."

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