This photograph is among the earliest studies Edward Weston made of Tina Modotti, the woman whose face and figure would inspire some of Weston’s best work throughout the 1920s. The photographer regarded the image as an important one at the time, including it in two early exhibitions: in Amsterdam in 1922, and at the Aztec Land Gallery in Mexico City in 1923. This print is one of only three extant examples of this seminal picture of Modotti.
Head of an Italian Girl is from a series of studies and portraits of Modotti that Weston began in Los Angeles in 1921, soon after their love affair began, and would continue in Mexico. At the time this photograph was taken, each was married to someone else: Weston to the former Flora Chandler, the mother of his four children, and Modotti to the poet and textile designer, Roubaix de l’Abrie Richey. Born in Italy, Modotti was a recent arrival in Los Angeles, where she worked variously as an actress in silent films and as a seamstress and clothing designer. In the early 1920s, Weston made his living as a portrait photographer in Glendale, while pursuing his own creative work. The two fell in love shortly after they met, and Weston began photographing Modotti immediately. In April 1921, Weston wrote of Modotti to his friend, the photographer Johan Hagemeyer:
‘Life has been very full for me—perhaps too full for my good—I not only have done some of the best things yet—but have also had an exquisite affair . . . the pictures I believe to be especially good are of one Tina de Richey—a lovely Italian girl’ (The Archive, January 1986, Number 22, ‘The Letters from Tina Modotti to Edward Weston,’ p. 10)
In the present image, the ecstatic expression on Modotti’s face provides some indication of the intensity of their new relationship.
Amy Conger locates only two prints of this image, both in institutional collections: a palladium print originally owned by Johan Hagemeyer and now at the Center for Creative Photography, Tucson [view image below]; and a platinum print at the Baltimore Museum of Art. [quoted from source]