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  • Provenance

    Mildred Constantine; Ex-Libris, New York; Allan Frumkin Gallery, Chicago

  • Exhibited

    London, Hayward Gallery, Tina Modotti & Edward Weston: The Mexico Years, 29 April - 1 August 2004

  • Literature

    M. Constantine, Tina Modotti: A Fragile Life, New York : Rizzoli, 1983, p. 142; M. Hooks, Tina Modotti: Radical Photographer, 1993, p. 190; M. Hooks, Tina Modotti: Photographer and Revolutionary, London: Pandora, 1993, p. 190; S. Lowe, Tina Modotti, Photographs, New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1998, p. 108 (variant); Tina Modotti & Edward Weston: The Mexico Years, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 2004, p. 32, pl. 45; M. Hooks, Tina Modotti (Phaidon 55s), London: Phaidon, 2006, p. 40

  • Catalogue Essay

    Tina Modotti arrived in Mexico with Edward Weston in 1923. They were among the many artists who crossed the border, lured by the promise of what later became known as the ‘Mexican Renaissance’, and the rumour of a new democracy. The government were purposely trying to gratify the masses and wanted to be seen to patronize the arts. An obvious sign of this was their commissioning of artists to decorate the public buildings with vibrant murals expressing cultural identity.

    Before the 1920s, not surprisingly, photography in Mexico played its traditional roles fulfilling the functional mechanical practice – it was a recorder of public heritage and a tool of journalism. The presence of Modotti and Weston transformed the camera’s purpose from scientific to artistic. They produced ‘objects’ of beauty, pushing the boundaries of modernism, purposely striving to create works which broke away with a defined sensuality from what had gone before. The difference between Modotti and Weston was that she needed and desired the transmittance of her political beliefs with a visceral passion; her skill as an artist and her sympathy for the well-being of the Mexican people was interlocked.

    In 1929 Tina Modotti met Louis Bunin, a Russian-born painter and puppeteer who had come to Mexico to be an apprentice to Diego Riviera. What began was a collaboration out of which came the pure reflection of duality which exists in Modotti’s photographs. In Hands of the Puppeteer, all her usual concerns are noted – attention to the nuance of shadow, dramatic light and shade, contrast of texture, the creation of a sinuous tension. In terms of craft, the print is also printed full bleed, another characteristic of Modotti’s work (like Weston, she believed that a carefully considered composition and good printing were the foundations of a true photograph). The image is also a political metaphor – the close-up of the hands symbolizing those in power strategically pulling the strings from above of those below. Puppetry was a social pleasure which could supposedly be enjoyed without segregation, but in this image Modotti’s revolutionary hopes are seen to have wained. The promise of peasant reform and autonomy for the working classes seemed distant with disappointment in the reported re-emerging right-wing government and evidence of the growing exploitation of the ethnic and working classes. In this work Modotti invests all her heart-felt beliefs and reasons for being – as much as anything it is symbolic of her own conflict between art and life.

THOMAS WALTHER COLLECTION

19

Hands of the Puppeteer, Mexico

1929
Gelatin silver print.
19 x 23.7 cm (7 1/2 x 9 3/8 in).
‘Le mani del burattinaio no. 3 (1926)’ typed on a label, annotated ‘Originale’ in pencil in an unidentified hand and Vittorio Vidali’s ‘Comandancia General’ Fifth Regiment stamp on the verso.

Estimate
£40,000 - 50,000 

Sold for £61,250

Photographs

3 November 2011
London