Tina Modotti, geniul fotografiei si seductia stalinista

Tina Modotti was a great photographer and, after 1930, a Comintern secret agent, one of the most enigmatic figures in the Kremlin’s worldwide revolutionary cobweb. Born on August 16, 1896 in Udine, Italy, Tina died unfder strange circumstances on January 6, 1942 in Mexico City. I almost finished reading “Tinisima,” a fictionalized biography, or rather a real life novel, by the Mexican writer. Elena Poniatowska. Thanks to William Stearns for having recommended this truly absorbing book! I had no idea that Tina’s missions included clandestine trips to Czechoslovakia and Romania. She was Vittorio Vidali’s great love. Vidali was a communist fanatic, one of the most ruthless organizers and perpetrators of “special operations.” He had many nicknames, but is remembered especially as “Carlos Contreras.” To document her book, Poniatowska spent a whole week in Trieste interviewing Vidali. Born in 1900, he died in 1983,  arryhing with him into the grave countless tenebrous stories.

Tina’s Comintern instructor (handler) was the Old Bolshevik Elena Stasova, la vieille, who trusted and protected her during the years spent in Moscow. There is a famous photo with Stasova and Lenin. Tina had become an undercover operative. The marvelous photographer of the 1920s almost abandoned her real calling in favor of Stalin’s planetary revolution. But then came the Spanish Civil War and Tina rediscovered the appeals of fraternity. The salvation of the Republic meant her own salvation. She was active with the Red Aid (MOPR), worked for the Madrid Hospital, had brief encounters with Vidali, renounced practically to her private life. She was active in organizing the Valencia Congress of Anti-Fascist writers, socialized with Rafael Alberti, Maria Teresa Leon, Mikhail Koltsov, Alexei Tolstoy, Ilya Ehrenburg, Andre Malraux, Louis Aragon, Pablo Neruda, Ludwig Renn. Tina met La Pasionaria and other communist luminaries. They were unawares of her artistic pedigree. Her Mexican pictures were among the most innovative in the history of photograhy…

She was friends with photographer Greta Taro and was shocked when she heard of Greta’s death on the front. What followed were the French camps (Argeles, Gurs etc), those places described by Koestler in “Scum of the Earth” where the refugees from Spain lived under destitute, desolating conditions, starved and anxious, reaching the point of eating sand. My mom was in one of them (Gurs). Over one hundred thousand were given Mexican citizenship. Tina and Vittorio were in charge of the transports. She also tried to help the great poet Antonio Machado who had found refuge in the French village Collioure where he died soon thereafter. Tina was close to Constancia de la Mora, the propaganda chief for the Republican government and to her husband, Ignacio Hidalgo de Cisneros, the head of the loyalists’ air force. Cisneros died and was buried in Romania in the 1970s…

When she arrived in Mexico City, Tina was gaunt and derelict. Old friends failed to recognize the once flamboyant woman. The Nazi-Soviet Pact shattered her. This was the limit, one would think, of her blind devotion. Vidali asked her to suppress the doubts, yet she was not the same anymore. The defetat of the Spanisj Republic was her personal defeat. She died in the bak seat of a cab, apparently of a heart attack. Up to this day, many think that it may have been a murder. Madonna supported financially, in the 1990s, the Philadelphia Museum of Art exhibition with Tina’s Mexican photos. The mega-star even thought to play Tina in a biopic. A post-modern denouement to a fascinatingly turbulent life in the century of modern revolutionary passions…

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