Brett Abbott. Edward Weston, In Focus: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2005), 32. ©2005, J. Paul Getty Trust.
In July 1923 Edward Weston changed his life dramatically. On the thirtieth of that month he left his wife, three youngest sons, and the Los Angeles artistic milieu in which he had gained prominence to sail for Mexico with his oldest son, Chandler (1910-1995), and his model and lover at the time, Tina Modotti (1896-1942). Weston later summarized his thought process regarding the move: “A long period of personal conflict was required before I finally decided to break away and leave my family for Mexico. To the outer world I was a deserter, but I was not. If I had remained under conditions which could not have been, and never will be changed, I would have mentally poisoned all around me; destroyed them, my work, myself.” The resulting two and a half years he spent away constituted a period of immense stylistic exploration and maturation for the developing artist.
Weston had never been to Mexico and spoke little or no Spanish. Modotti, an Italian-born actress who aspired to become a photographer and who had visited Mexico previously, acted as his interpreter, studio assistant, and model in exchange for learning the craft from him. She also facilitated his exhibitions, print sales, and introductions to prominent artists in Mexico City.
Weston made this picture of Modotti on the flat, tiled roof of a hacienda they shared in Mexico City. The image is radically different from the nude he had made of Margrethe Mather the year before (see 85.XM.257.2). Here Weston moved in close to his subject, producing a sensual study of the nude form by photographing from above and emphasizing the texture and sheen of flesh against rough tiles. Modotti's figure sweeps diagonally across the composition, her voluminous torso lightly framed.
Modotti did go on to become a photographer, producing images with a formal sensibility informed by Weston's creations but infused with socialist political content akin to that of the Mexican painter Diego Rivera (1886-1957), whose public murals championed the working class and who was a friend and supporter of both Weston and Modotti in Mexico.