hands of the puppeteer

All thanks to to my friend Lesley Crawley, who pointed me in the direction of this beautiful 1929 photograph taken in Mexico City by Tina Modotti. Beneath the photograph I’ve put an extract from a Phillip’s auction catalogue entry on Modotti.

‘In 1929 Tina Modotti met Louis Bunin, a Russian-born painter and puppeteer who had come to Mexico to be an apprentice to Diego Riviera. What began was a collaboration out of which came the pure reflection of duality which exists in Modotti’s photographs. In Hands of the Puppeteer, all her usual concerns are noted – attention to the nuance of shadow, dramatic light and shade, contrast of texture, the creation of a sinuous tension. In terms of craft, the print is also printed full bleed, another characteristic of Modotti’s work (like Weston, she believed that a carefully considered composition and good printing were the foundations of a true photograph). The image is also a political metaphor – the close-up of the hands symbolizing those in power strategically pulling the strings from above of those below. Puppetry was a social pleasure which could supposedly be enjoyed without segregation, but in this image Modotti’s revolutionary hopes are seen to have wained. The promise of peasant reform and autonomy for the working classes seemed distant with disappointment in the reported re-emerging right-wing government and evidence of the growing exploitation of the ethnic and working classes. In this work Modotti invests all her heart-felt beliefs and reasons for being – as much as anything it is symbolic of her own conflict between art and life.’

From a Phillips auction catalogue in which an original print of the photograph was being offered.

Above: Tina Modotti, who was an actress, model and photographer,  in the 1920 film The Tiger’s Coat

13 thoughts on “hands of the puppeteer

    • Thank you Natalie. For those interested there’s also a good piece on Kantor HERE, written for a Christies auction catalogue. I’ve wished many times that I’d seen The Dead Class. A regretted omission. I envy you having seen a performance.

  1. Yes, absolutely marvellous photo and the puppet series is terrific.
    Clive, no doubt you know of the director Tadeus Kantor’s extraordinary ‘Dead Class’? I saw it at the Edinburgh Festival in 1976 and was never so moved by anything in the theatre before or since. The moment when the puppets seated among the live actors stand up and the music blares out was like a bolt of lightning striking your heart.

  2. What a beautiful photograph, so strong in contrasts of meaning and of light and shadow. I love that his hands are older with prominent veins–so very clearly human hands that hold the crosspieces.

    • It’s a wonderful image, isn’t it? And the light etches the detail to carry us right to the moment. Perfect.

    • I think, if I’m not mistaken, that you and I may have met through Cardboard Cutout Sundown. Weren’t you at college with James Hood. or have I completely misremembered?

      • Yes Clive, that is right, James and I were at college together, and through visiting his blog, Cardboard Cutout Sundown, I came across your work on the Artlog, and then I made some puppet maquettes for your online exhibition, and I think James did as well, and eventually came to meet you in person a few weeks ago at the Arts Alive Masterclass workshop in Crickhowell.

  3. I too am loving the puppet posts, there must be something in the air lately, as the excellent blog Feuilleton has a post about Jiri Barta’s Pied Piper of Hamelin animation, which I think you would find interesting.

    • I know Barta’s Pied Piper, and Feuilleton is indeed a wonderful source of material thanks to the fantastic John Coulthart’s encyclopaedic knowledge of music, art, illustration and film.

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