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Shadows, Fire, Snow: The Life of Tina Modotti Paperback – March 11, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Tina Modotti's short, intense life (1896-1942) has sparked numerous biographies, but museum curator Patricia Albers's is the first to do true justice to Modotti's photography and to persuasively trace its roots in her personal experiences. Albers does a fine job nailing down the particulars of this remarkable woman's picaresque journey: impoverished childhood in Italy; introduction to bohemianism and radicalism in California; amorous and artistic fulfillment in Mexico; a murder that launched her into the maelstrom of Communist Party activism in Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and Spain; return to Mexico and premature death. Even more importantly, Albers conveys the essence of Modotti's haunting images, which displayed a modernist technique similar to that of her lover Edward Weston, but applied it to the respectful, loving portrayal of Mexico's common people. Contemporary readers may regret Modotti's decision to abandon photography in 1932 and her unflinching loyalty to Stalinism (including a decade-long liaison with a particularly dogmatic party functionary), but Albers makes readers understand that the same passion that fueled her art and her many love affairs underpinned her commitment to Communism. Modotti's story is not one of reasoned choices and measured steps, but a wild, romantic saga of intrigue, heartbreak, excess, and catastrophe all vividly captured in this poignant book. --Wendy Smith --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Art historians have called Tina Modotti (1896-1942) "the best-known unknown photographer of the 20th century." She also acted in silent films in Hollywood, went to Mexico with Edward Weston in 1922, was a nurse in Spain's Civil War and a prominent Communist, antifascist and internationalist. Partner to equally extraordinary men, friend to the most creative minds of her generation, she died alone in a taxi cab at the age of 46. Shadows, Fire, Snow is her first truly satisfying biography. Patricia Albers has built upon Mildred Constantine's Tina Modotti: A Fragile Life and Margaret Hooks's Tina Modotti: Photographer and Revolutionary, but hers is a more deftly researched book that takes greater risks. In tightly written passagesAalmost too dense at timesAshe beautifully evokes pivotal scenes in Modotti's artistic and political development, revealing her generosity of spirit and the passionate commitment to her ideals that kept her moving from country to country and eventually drove her to give up her art. This is a biography divided by placeAItaly, Austria, Hollywood, Mexico City, Berlin, Moscow, MadridAand about a woman who longed to be rooted to a place, but who couldn't allow herself to settle down. Albers's understanding of this contradiction provides the narrative tension that makes this biography such riveting reading (and great film material). Throughout Modotti's short life, she counted among her friends and co-workers Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, American writer John Dos Passos and Russian revolutionary and feminist Alexandra Kollontai, among many others. Modotti's photographs were often documentary in nature, what Carleton Beals called seeking the "perfect snapshot." Albers's rendition of Modotti's life goes a long way toward allowing us to understand this extraordinary woman. 60 photos not seen by PW. Agent, Laurie Fox of the Linda Chester Literary Agency. Foreign rights sold in Germany. (Apr.) FYI: In March, St. Martin's is publishing Tina Modotti: A Life, translated by Patricia J. Duncan.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 397 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (March 11, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520235142
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520235144
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,067,461 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Patricia Albers is the author of Shadows, Fire, Snow: The Life of Tina Modotti, selected as one of the Library Journal's Best Books of 1999, and Joan Mitchell, Lady Painter: A Life, one of Booklist's ten best biographies of 2011. A resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, she is currently working on a biography of Budapest-born photographer André Kertész.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By sivin on January 1, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"I look upon people now not in terms of race...but in terms of classes...," wrote Tina Modotti to a friend towards the end of this excellent biography. A complex woman with many passions, Modotti's life is described by Patricia Albers in vibrant terms, totally capturing the reader's attention and taking that reader on a journey through the Italy of Modotti's childhood to the United States and finally Mexico, her chosen home. Along the way Modotti's relationships with such artists as Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo is explored as well as with other notables of her time. Through Albers' exploration of her subject, the reader discovers the evolution of Modotti from actress to noted photographer to active politico. Because of Modotti's many facets the book would be an excellent gift choice. This is a story that makes the reader want to snuggle up in a comfortable chair on a rainy day and read until the sun comes out. It is well-written, informative, colorful and very human.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 1, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"I look upon people now not in terms of race...but in terms of classes..." wrote Tina Modotti to a friend towards the end of this excellent biography. A complex woman with many passions, Modotti's life is described by Patricia Albers in vibrant terms, totally capturing the reader's attention and taking that reader on a journey through the Italy of Modotti's childhood to the United States and finally Mexico, her chosen home. Along the way Modotti's relationships with such artists as Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo is explored as well as with other notables of her time. Through Albers' exploration of her subject, the reader discovers the evolution of Modotti from actress to noted photographer to active politico. Because of Modotti's many facets the book would be an excellent gift choice. This is a story that makes the reader want to snuggle up in a comfortable chair on a rainy day and read until the sun comes out. It is well-written, informative, colorful and very human.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Justine Cardello on July 23, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I really wanted to read a good book about Tina Modotti, but Albers writing style is so dull, and so flat, I barely made it through chapters. She goes into tedious detail, and I have not gotten any feel at all for Tina. Fortunately, I took the book out of the library, and will return it tomorrow. Perhaps I will try another author, but this is really a great disappointment.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By bookworm on January 17, 2005
Format: Paperback
Tina is fascinating. The author gives a lot of history which is necessary to understand Tina..from SF North Beach to LA to Mexico City. Very insightful about Communist party of 20's/30's and sets up the scenario for membership and activism. Very good book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Loves the View VINE VOICE on December 27, 2009
Format: Paperback
This photographer should be more famous. The photos in the book are outstanding and equal to or better than Evans, Weston, Lange, etc., all of whom achieved fame for being pioneers in this field. While her career was short, the photos in this book show breakthroughs in style and content.

Where did her life get broken? Weston seems to use her as an assistant even as her work (in my opinion) eclipses his. Was it the struggle for recognition in her art? Was she seen more of an actress or bohemian hostess than a serious artist? Was it the trauma of having two lovers dying essentially in her arms? Was it an inability to forget her childhood poverty? Was it a quest for paternal approval? (Giuseppe Modotti spawned a host of radical children.) After the horror of being accused of Julio's murder was Vittorio her only alternative?

This is an incredibly provocative story. The story of Jack Reed has probably been glamorized beyond all recognition. Is this the sorry female equivalent?

I'd have liked more analysis and less flourish in the writing style. Given the scale of original research analysis might have to be something for the next scholar. As to the writing style here are two examples: p. 154: "Ben and Bumpo were working stiffs with a handsome sulk about them" and p. 240 "Although the sun flirted with Berlin, cold stung their cheeks as the threesome strolled the banks of the Spree River."

There is a lot here for anyone interested in photographers, the bohemian lifestyle Mexico City in the early 20th century or the fate of idealists who joined the communist cause. I recommend it for readers with these interests.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By kathy brandt on June 18, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Per ad Tina Modotti was listed as a companion with artist ,photographer Walter Frederick Seeley ...He was never mentioned. The book was a jumble of names ,disassociated events ,boring and pointless
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