Hardcover published by Clarkson Potter, 1999
Paperback published by University of California Press, 2002

Born in Udine, Italy, in 1896, Tina Modotti lived one of the most brilliant and tragic lives of her era. An internationally known modernist photographer, Modotti forged elegant images conceived as tools for the self-liberation of the Mexican people. But her achievements as a photographer are only one facet of her story. A legendary beauty, she scripted for herself a series of remarkable roles: silent film actress; jazz age bohemian; relief worker; Stalinist agent; friend of Frida Kahlo, Sergei Eisenstein, Pablo Neruda, and La Pasionaria; and colleague and lover of photographer Edward Weston, painter Diego Rivera, and Cuban Communist Party founder Julio Antonio Mella. Mella’s murder as the two walked home one evening in Mexico City set off a chain of events that led Modotti to Berlin, Moscow, and Madrid, where she gave herself over to the Loyalist cause in the Spanish Civil War. Her photography, her beauty, and her health all fell by the wayside as she devoted her energies to Spain and to workers, peasants, and humble people everywhere.

“Shadows, Fire, Snow is [Modotti’s] first truly satisfying biography…a deftly researched book that takes [great] risks” … Albers’s understanding [of Modotti’s contradictions] provides the narrative tension that makes this biography such riveting reading (and great film material).”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Two new biographies attempt to make sense of the colorful traces [Modotti] left behind. But only Patricia Albers’s Shadows, Fire, Snow completes the essential task: giving Modotti her due, both in art and in life. … Albers has managed scrupulously to weave together all the loose threads of Modotti’s life, without trying to prettify the sometimes clashing patterns that emerge. As in the photographer’s finest work, the textures are more fascinating when allowed to retain a bit of mystery.”
— Ted Loos, New York Times

“Shadows, Fire, Snow: The Life of Tina Modotti by Patricia Albers will surely set the standard for any future biographies of this great artist, who sacrificed her life and career to a brutally totalitarian political movement. … Albers not only faithfully depicts the historical panorama, but also provides the day-to-day nuances and heartbreakingly evocative anecdotes of an emotionally overwhelming tragedy.”
— Jules Siegel, San Francisco Chronicle

“Albers has provided an authoritative portrait of a complex individual — a portrait that, like a Weston photograph, gives equal weight to shadows and highlights. Her extensive study does justice both to Weston’s images and to the Modotti of Pablo Neruda’s elegy, which tells of a woman for whom ‘bees, shadows, fire,/snow, silence and foam combining/with steel and wire and/pollen … make up your firm/and delicate being.’”
— Sarah Coleman, Salon

“Albers blows the dust from the corners of Modotti’s brief life, discussing the artistic technique, political fervor and, of course, the famous romances with Edward Weston and Diego Rivera. Albers’ strength lies in the way she uses the clues Modotti left behind – from the angles of her photographs to the tone of her letters – to flesh out the story of her short, brightly burning career.”
— Meredith Kahn, Harper’s Bazaar

“A finely detailed portrait, full of shadows and highlights, of the mysterious woman who was actress, well-regarded photographer, Communist secret agent and compassionate humanitarian.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Looking beyond Modotti’s liaisons and life as photographer in Mexico, Albers takes her subject off the pedestal created by Edward Weston’s ethereal photographs. In this accessible work – the first comprehensive biography – Albers sees the very human Modotti as a passionate artist, inexhaustible political organizer, and modern woman set on finding fulfillment.”
Library Journal