A Brief History of Flowers in Western Art
From the Catalogue:
The gorgeous and unabashedly sensual photograph being offered is the only known print of this image. It is from a famous series of photographs by Edward Weston of his lover Tina Modotti on a tiled rooftop (azotea) in Mexico in 1924. Hereto unknown, this perhaps unique palladium print was either given or sold (it has the price written in pencil on the print verso in Weston’s hand) to a friend and fellow photographer of Japanese American descent at the time of Weston’s 1925 exhibition at the Shaku-do-sha Camera Club, a Japanese Camera Club on First Street in Los Angeles. It was recently rediscovered when purchased by a California collector as part of a group of Weston prints, several of which are well known today but others, particularly those from Weston’s early days in Mexico, had been lost in history.
In his essay, “Dating Edward Weston’s Tina on the Azotea,” (fig 4) Thomas Knight argues that Tina on the Azotea, typically dated 1923, was in fact one from a group of photographs taken in 1924 which he refers to as “Weston’s only known photographic record of a model disrobing…” Though Knight does not reference the current lot, presumably because scholars were not aware of its existence, its placement within the group is clear. The series begins with Weston’s image of Tina wrapped in her kimono, Hands against Kimono. The negative for this image resides in the Weston archive at the Center for Creative Photography along with that of the fourth image in the series. The second image Knight identifies depicts a loosening of the kimono to expose Modotti’s left breast and the top of her pubic hair. Though the whereabouts of this negative is unknown, a vintage print of it is in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. In the third image, Modotti’s kimono is completely removed but remains in the picture draped on the floor of the azotea in front of where Modotti is now positioned: outstretched, back to the camera, resting on her left forearm. Again no negative of this image is in the Weston archive though a vintage print of it is in the Lane Collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Given its striking similarity to the third image, Knight submits that the famous full frontal nude of Modotti lying on her back with the kimono now completely removed from the frame, Tina on the Azotea, is the final photograph in the series.
Knight points out that in all the images of Tina on the Azotea, the subject is lit from overhead by a strong Mexican sunlight that casts a distinct shadow directly below. It is this analysis of light, shadow and the positioning of the kimono that allows us to offer a specific placement of the present lot within this series. In the second image, the heavy shadow falls not on the floor (which is not in the picture) but rather right below her breast. Here, the shadows of Modotti’s legs fall directly below to the floor interlocking the form of her body with the azotea. It is therefore conceivable that the image was taken third for, as with the first and second images, the kimono, with its dark background and geometric patterning, still plays an active part in the image, draped carefully in the background to frame her torso. In the final two images, by contrast, Modotti’s kimono is fully set aside.
Of further note is the fact that Weston’s vertical image of Modotti with her arms down and kimono open (fig 2) and this horizontal nude have both been cropped by the artist from an 8 x 10 in. contact print which, in both cases, serves to emphasize the elongated form of Weston’s subject.
Knight concludes that Weston’s series of photographs of Tina on the Azotea "is a….startling visual metaphor for his stylistic evolution while in Mexico from pictorialism, often employing elements of Japonisme, to the stark simplicity of modernism." For indeed while previously working in California Japonisme was a significant component of Weston’s vocabulary, but in the series of Tina on the Azotea the great American Modern Master literally sheds his last vestiges of pictorial symbols in the bright Mexican sun. Twelve years later Weston would again take another historic series of nudes in strong sunlight this time of his lover and model Charis on the Oceana Dunes.
—Courtesy of Phillips
Signature: Annotated in pencil on the verso.
Acquired directly from the artist, 1925
By descent from the original owner
Private Collection, California
One of the most influential American photographers of the 20th century, Edward Weston is known for his richly detailed and precisely composed black-and-white images of semi-abstract nudes, landscapes, and organic forms including close-up studies of shells, vegetables, and rocks. During a trip to New York in 1922, Weston had a formative encounter with the photographer Alfred Stieglitz; shortly thereafter he traveled to Mexico with his student and mistress Tina Modotti, where he met the artists Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco. By the spring of 1929 he began to photograph Point Lobos in Carmel, California and developed the style that would distinguish his practice, favoring sharp contrasts and a full tonal scale. He became a founding member of the group f/64 in 1932 along with fellow California photographers Imogen Cunningham and Ansel Adams, who together advocated for un-manipulated, sharp-focus photography. “To record the quintessence of the object or element before my lens, rather than an interpretation, a superficial phase, or passing mood—this is my way in photography,” he once said.
American, 1886-1958, Highland Park, Illinois
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