All posts by Inge Morath Estate

Portraits & Personalities (1955 – 2001)

Inge Morath: Portraits & Personalities (1955 – 2001)

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There is so much of my life in the faces in [these photographs]. If I had not looked into some of them my life would not have been the same. Quite a few of the faces I have known had to be left out of this collection and I do miss them. I asked to photograph these people because there was meaning for me in each of their persons, a feeling of closeness or admiration, a curiosity about them and their work, about how they carried their beauty or their fame, their isolation, their aging, their knowledge – in short, about how they faced the world. Most of these photographs were taken on my own initiative.

Occasionally this initiative was transformed into a gratefully accepted assignment by my having aroused the interest of an editor with the same inclinations. I like to go alone to these photographic meetings. A one-to-one meeting gives me the excitement of a first encounter, undiluted. In the ritual of getting acquainted, both people work harder at being seen as they wish to be seen, almost as one makes the critical assessment of oneself in a mirror, alone. At times the company of a friend helps to overcome some initial shyness. But the presence of lovers, wives, husbands, children often provokes a protective reaction in the subject. In reacting to more than one pair of eyes, to more than one relationship, a veil is drawn rather than lifted. Sometimes a familiar face seen in a new light is rediscovered. I delight in these encounters.

From Portraits. Photographs by Inge Morath. Aperture: New York, 1986.

Iran (1956)

Inge Morath: Iran (1956)

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Interview with Inge Morath by Kurt Kaindl, Salzburg, 1992

I wanted to photograph the Silk Road, to follow Marco Polo’s traces to China. I thought it would be a good idea to start in Iran. So, I told Holiday Magazine that I would like to photograph Iran; that was in 1956. I was also very interested in the region, in old civilizations which are suddenly overbalanced by modern times. Iran was a country where they had started to build factories, but a lot was still medieval.

Robert Delpire came with me to Iran because he wanted to make a book. Later he left, and I finished the project on my own. It was crazy, because at that time it was very complicated for women to travel alone in the Middle East. I was always very considerate of how people live. In Iran, I wore the chador and long trousers with a gown, and paid I attention to customs. If you don’t respect what people do, you should not photograph them.

I traveled to Abadan. Delpire accompanied me there, and then I drove back alone with my Armenian driver. But sometimes even he was afraid. If nomads came, he stayed at a great distance and I went walking towards them, armed with Aspirin and sugar. At that time I also realized the advantage of a Polaroid and I gave them a picture. The nomads occasionally shot at people, killed them, but I always got along very well with them. It was amazing, but it was also fierce.

Finally, I traveled to Iraq. It was summer and there was a big heat. It was the wrong time for Iraq. Then I went to Syria and Jordan. At that time there were very few hotels. Occasionally, I slept in ruins, which was great but also a little dangerous. But I think I trusted in God. I came finally back. I was one of the few at that time who were able to travel any place I wanted.

Read the Preface by John Jacob

How to have great sex

How to have great sex is as easy as that, but good sex requires some planning. Here are a few tips of what you can do now to get you and your spouse ready for tonight’s event: Don’t be shy about an unannounced pregnancy by taking contraceptives. Put on your best sexy underwear, or not wear any at all.

How To Have Great Sex

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There are many other tips for how to have great sex on the net. Just remember to pay attention to how you talk to your partner, the way you touch her, and any physical indications that she wants you to do things. By using these tricks and tips before the night begins, you will ensure a very enjoyable experience for both of you. It’s always better to enjoy the journey rather than the destination. Read more info on

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You can find many resources that can teach you how to have great sex. You can even search for some books to read. There are plenty of books out there that will teach you different techniques, and there are even books that focus on ways to bring the two of you closer together. This can help you enjoy great sex and create an intimacy that is only dreamed of.

Learning how to have great sex means taking charge. You don’t have to wait for things to happen to make the situation better. There are plenty of steps that you can take to ensure that things happen for you. No matter what you decide to do, the main thing is that you can trust and have faith in your partner. in order to have the best possible results.

Once you’ve mastered some basic skills for great sex, you may want to do it in your own home or somewhere private. You can learn all about how to have great sex from magazines and books that are written by professionals, but you can also learn from others and from those that have been there before. If you aren’t comfortable talking about this topic with a partner, then you may want to find some private chat rooms or websites. You’ll find that these sites allow you to learn from people in the privacy of your own home.

Inge Morath’s La Galondrina in NY Times

Inge Morath La Galondrina featured in NY Times

In time for New York’s annual Flamenco Festival, which starts on Thursday, an exhibition has just opened, split between two places. It shows flamenco in photographs, some of them dating to the 19th century.

There is little to distinguish tone and content between the show at the Aperture Gallery in Chelsea and that at the Amster Yard Gallery at Instituto Cervantes in Turtle Bay; it’s best to see them in quick succession. The overall title is “No Singing Allowed: Flamenco and Photography” (although, when I visited the Aperture Gallery, some old flamenco recordings could be heard in the background — I thought I recognized the voice of La Niña de los Peines, the most enthralling of all flamenco singers on record). The curator is José Lebrero.

Read the full article.

2010 Inge Morath, Award Guidelines

2010 Inge Morath Award Guidelines

For Immediate Release: The Inge Morath Award

The Magnum Foundation and the Inge Morath Foundation announce the seventh annual Inge Morath Award. The annual prize of $5,000 is awarded by the Magnum Foundation to a female documentary photographer under the age of 30, to support the completion of a long-term project. One award winner and up to two finalists are selected by a jury composed of Magnum photographers.

Inge Morath was an Austrian-born photographer who was associated with Magnum Photos for nearly fifty years. After her death in 2002, the Inge Morath Foundation was established to manage Morath’s estate and facilitate the study and appreciation of her contribution to photography.

Because Morath devoted much of her enthusiasm to encouraging women photographers, her colleagues at Magnum Photos established the Inge Morath Award in her honor. The Award is now given by the Magnum Foundation as part of its mission of supporting new generations of socially-conscious documentary photographers, and is administered by the Magnum Foundation in collaboration with the Inge Morath Foundation.

Past winners of the Inge Morath Award include: Emily Schiffer (US, ’09) for Cheyenne River; Kathryn Cook (US, ’08) for Memory Denied: Turkey and the Armenian Genocide; Olivia Arthur (UK, ’07) for The Middle Distance; Jessica Dimmock (US, ’06) for The Ninth Floor; Mimi Chakarova (US, ’06) for Sex Trafficking in Eastern Europe; Claudia Guadarrama (MX, ’05) for Before the Limit; and Ami Vitale (US, ’02), for Kashmir.

All submissions must be postmarked or delivered by April 30th, 2010.

Form of Submission:
Images should be sent as a PDF document (no Quicktime, Powerpoint, or HTML files will be accepted). A subfolder with the individual image files must accompany the PDF file. Please do NOT format your document as a slideshow; we’ll do that for you. Also, please do not password-protect your file.
– All files and support materials must be submitted on a CD to the address below.
– All submissions must consist of work done solely by the submitting photographer.

Image File Specifications:
– 40 – 60 images (1200 pixels on the longest side @ 150 DPI saved as a Jpeg compression at 8 minimum).

In the subfolder containing individual images, please use numbered filenames indicating the image sequence, with the number coming

first in the file name and then last name; for example: 01_Smith, 02_Smith, 03_Smith etc. (use only two digit numbers; 01, 02, 03, etc.). The first page of your document should show your name and the title of your project, if any.

Please label your CD with your name and contact information before sending it, and please test the CD to ensure that both it and your slideshow are functional.

Required Support Material:
– Printed project description.
– Printed Curriculum Vitae
(maximum three pages) including name, telephone number, and mailing address.
– Photocopy or scan of ID clearly showing date of birth. Applicants must still be under the age of 30 before April 30th, 2010.
Photographers represented by Magnum Photos and their immediate relatives are not eligible.

Return of Submissions:
Submissions that are not accompanied by a self-addressed stamped envelope will not be returned. Applicants waive any claims for loss of or damage to their submissions.

Announcement of Winner:
July 2010 on the web sites of the Magnum Foundation and the Inge Morath Foundation.

Fine Print:
Applicants grant the Magnum Foundation a license to reproduce, display and distribute their submissions solely in connection with the administration and judging of the Inge Morath Award, including on the Magnum Foundation website and the Inge Morath Foundation website.

Winners of the Inge Morath Award agree that any future publication, exhibition or display of the funded project shall credit the Inge Morath Award and the Magnum Foundation.

Upon completion of the funded project, a final (digital) copy must be provided to the Magnum Foundation. The Foundation, in furtherance of its charitable purposes, may, in the future, (1) display the project on its website and make it available for display on the website of the Inge Morath Foundation; and (2) publicly display the project (or excepts from it) in connection with exhibitions or promotional materials related to the Inge Morath Award. The Foundation will credit the artist as the author and copyright holder of her photographs.

Winners may be required to provide additional identifying information prior to receiving payment.

Send Submissions To:
Inge Morath Award
c/o The Magnum Foundation
151 West 25th Street, 5th Floor
New York, NY 10001 USA

For Further Information:


Azar Nafisi: The Mystery in Her Own Eyes

The Mystery in Her Own Eyes: Extracts from a Conversation with Azar Nafisi

Interview with Azar Nafisi by John P. Jacob. From Inge Morath: Iran, Göttingen: Steidl, 2009.

Please also view the slideshow.

As an Iranian born writer on literature, who is also deeply interested in the role of women within civic society, I invited Azar Nafisi to comment on Inge Morath’s photographs of Iran from a variety of perspectives; historical as well as political, personal as well as cultural. As an writer and social critic, Nafisi shares with Morath a common set of intellectual concerns. Both are motivated by the larger historical movements of the 20th century, and both approach the study of the cultures that have been transformed by such movements through their creative output, particularly their literature and poetry. In approaching Morath’s photographs, I asked Nafisi to consider, on the one hand, how Morath might have prepared for her visit to Iran, and what impact a consciousness largely shaped by its literature might have on the photographs she made there. On the other hand, I asked her to imagine a contemporary, non-Iranian viewer of Morath’s images, whose knowledge of Nafisi’s homeland has been shaped in large part through the media coverage, much of it photographic, of recent political events in Iran. Balancing these, during our conversation, in Washington, DC on October 27th, 2008, Nafisi provided both an objective context for encountering Morath’s photographs and a sincerely personal response to them.

John Jacob [hereafter JJ]: Inge Morath came to Iran in 1956. After the war, and following the coup of 1953, the late ’50s were a period of relative stability for the country.

Azar Nafisi [hereafter AN]: 1956 was a time of stabilization in Iran. The Second World War, during which Reza Shah, the late Shah’s father, was dethroned and his son put into power, in itself created a great deal of destabilization. Then, after the coup in 1953, when the government of Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq was deposed by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi with support from the West, it took a bit of time to heal the wounds and create a new order. From mid ’50s, we began to have a more stable situation. That is also when the government returned more vigorously to issues of modernization; to paying attention to what Reza Shah’s vision for Iran had been.

The undercurrents of traditionalism and modernism go side by side in Iran. You see it in the situation of women, for example. To think that at the turn of the 20th century the Shah would have had numerous wives, all of whom would almost never leave the inside of the palace, and when they did they had to be covered from head to toe. Then, in Inge Morath’s pictures of Queen Soraya in 1956, we see an utterly modern woman who was half German. Now, not only would the Shah be monogamous, but he would be marrying a woman who was partly foreign and so comfortably modern. The Iranian society is thus based on a paradox. On one hand, as you see in Morath’s pictures, there are women covered from head to toe who are public; you see them in public streets. And then you see the nomads, who are covered in a very different way, a much more colorful and unconventional way. Finally, side by side with these, you see the modern women who look no different from modern western women. We lived with this paradox until the 1979 Revolution, and even now we’re living it and fighting because of it.

JJ: What would the situation have been for a Western woman entering into Iran at the time?

AN: During those days there was a constant, ongoing struggle between the religious traditionalists and the modernizers. But, at the particular moment when Inge Morath visited Iran, the modernizers were politically ascendant; it was another moment of triumph for secularization. At the same time, many resisted modernization by refusing to give up the traditional ways of life.  For example, for a short period between 1936 and 1941, Reza Shah made unveiling mandatory. But many women, like my own grandmother who lived in Isfahan, refused to leave their homes, until finally he had to repeal that law.

As for Morath herself, what she, as a woman, would not have been able to do two decades before her visit to Iran, she could now be free to do. It was now possible for a single Western woman to travel around the country. The government would not make trouble for her on that score, but I think that she might have had problems traveling in Iran, because most people were not accustomed to seeing a woman looking the way she did, or to seeing an active woman.

JJ: Morath herself wore the chador while in Iran, in respect for the custom.

AN: Whether she wears the chador or not, everybody knows what’s behind it. The interesting thing for me is that, despite that, all sorts of people, most of them very traditional, were open to her taking their photographs, and they appear to be quite unselfconscious in those photographs. It is obvious that she is recording a pose, but her subjects are not posing. This is what a good photographer does: she makes the subject unaware of her presence. I think that, in a strange culture, is quite an achievement.

JJ: It’s typical of Morath’s work as a photographer that she was unobtrusive; her subjects are aware of her presence but not responding to it. Her knowledge of history and her practice of immersing herself in a culture’s art and literature before embarking on a journey gave her a unique point of entry into people’s lives.

Can you describe Iran’s intellectual culture after the war and at the time of Morath’s visit?

AN: I keep remembering my own childhood, and how everything that came from “there,” from the foreign places, became so quickly part of our lives. But at the same time, it was such a feast. So Pepsi, and then later Coke, and department stores; these all came around the late ‘50s. I was a very small child when the first department store came to Tehran. There were escalators, and in the restaurant they were serving sausages and eggs. And the joy of going there! In my book, I mention that my mother would take me to a toy store that was called Iran, but the emblem of the store was a picture of father Christmas. As I was growing up, these two things were one in my mind.

Another thing that was very much part of my life was movie houses. My father, when I was a kid, would take me to see Jerry Lewis, Norman Wisdom, Alberto Sordi. Later, Fellini and Bergman and Antonioni were our mantras. All of these were, at least in modern families, names that we talked about all the time. But films were really one of the things that many modern and non-modern families had in common. And in the ’50s, Russian movies were very popular among the young Iranians who were developing a political consciousness. So Iran’s elite were as much influenced by the West as by Marxism.

I firmly believe that the radical changes that happened in Iran have not been just political. Throughout the 20th century, and as we speak, the major transformations have been as deeply cultural as they are political. And that is why the targets have always been in culture; women and minorities, and what goes by the name of imagination.

In Iran at the time, there was a continuation of the trend to bring modernism to poetry that began at the turn of the century. But the language of classical Persian poetry has always been very resistant to modernization, so it is in literature where you see real change. From the beginning of the 20th century right through the ’40s and ’50s, and even on into the ’60s, you see an effort to transform literature from a classical – very beautiful, but classical and more formal – language, into a language of the individual rather than the ideal. There was a search for the ordinary; to find the lingo of “real people.” Persian classical poetry, apart from a few poets such as Ferdowsi and Gorgani, is dominated by mysticism, and there is a negation of reality at the center of mystical poetry because it denies the actual world. But with this new modern trend, the world started to return to literature, dealing with everyday affairs. At the same time, fiction became more earthly and sensual. This was a time of experimentation when, to accommodate the new ideas and themes, the classical rhymes and rhythms were broken.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what Inge Morath might have read before traveling to Iran. The person whom we call the father of modern Persian prose was Sadegh Hedayat, who killed himself in Paris in the 1950s. His most famous novel, a classic, is called The Blind Owl. It is timeless, like Persian miniatures and Persian poetry. It happens near the ruins of the ancient city of Rey. For the angst-ridden narrator, the present is very bleak and has nothing to offer. But the past is just as bleak; it’s a past in ruins. It doesn’t come with insights; it doesn’t come tenderly. It comes as something cruel, providing no answers, no consolations. Hedayat was much influenced by Nerval, Novalis, and Kafka, and was very popular in France, so we may speculate that Morath was familiar with his writing.

In some of Morath’s photographs I felt that there was an affinity between that feeling of being overwhelmed by a past that is so huge and a present that is evasive and inaccessible. There is a sense of pessimism about the present and its intangibility. In her photographs of the village of Taft, for example, you see these small people walking by the ruined buildings; those ruins are testaments to a marvelous past, perhaps, and to a present that has not yet been acquired. It is not yet tangible; there seems to be a fear of what it will have in store for us. Again, in a photograph of Isfahan there is a bus, and in front of it a horse and buggy. I thought it rather symbolic that the horse and buggy is blocking the bus, as if reminding us that “We’re here! We are not going to go away and you have to deal with us.” But we didn’t deal with it. We allowed the different elements of our paradox to have their own parallel worlds, side by side.

Another thing about the literature that flourished during the ’40s and ’50s – again, I’m referring to Hedayat because he played such a central role – is that modernization happened partly in opposition to Islam. Many of the modernizers searched for a Persian identity that was not Islamic. Hedayat looked to the Zoroastrian past, writing plays and stories that belonged to pre-Islamic, ancient Iran. I was really struck by Morath’s work because, in the books of photography by foreigners that I have seen, not much attention has been paid to Zoroastrians. But she focuses on them, and on the idea of these layered pasts, each of them vanquished but not vanished.

JJ: Although no documentation survives to indicate how she came into contact with the Zoroastrians, it’s clear from Morath’s notes and contact sheets that her encounters with them were of particular importance to her.

AN: And it is interesting because she doesn’t just go into the temples. She goes into homes. She is making a point about the culture of these Zoroastrian women. You can see in her pictures that although the Zoroastrian women are supposed to be dressed in Zoroastrian garb, actually they don’t really look much different from those you would call Muslim. Each has been accumulating the culture of the other. In Iran, Islam has taken much of Zoroastrian and pre-Islamic culture into its architecture and poetry. Morath attempts to bring these different layers of time into the same frame; there is Zoroastrian, there is Islamic, and then there is “modern” or secular.

Morath’s attention to the nomads is also interesting. Nomads were quite important in Iran. The beginning of their demise was much accelerated during the Pahlavi period because of the centralization of the state. The nomads were against centralization because land became more and more scarce. They had territories and they had guns, but the central government, by and by, destroyed or disarmed them. The Zoroastrians, during the Shah’s time, had more freedom. Now the government feels very threatened by them because after the Revolution there was a revival of interest in Zoroastrianism by ordinary people; a lot of people were trying to convert. Officially, because they are people of the book, they are “allowed” to exist and have their temples still. We all celebrate the New Year; the Persian New Year is Zoroastrian, the festivities you see in Morath’s photographs of Nowruz belong to that tradition, which the government could not do anything against. So, again, this book shows a past that is in ruins, but it’s not going away.

JJ: In fact, the most common response to these photographs has been to the relative absence of any symbols of modernity. I remember that you also were initially struck by the lack of urban scenes, in spite of the fact that many of the photographs were made in cities like Tehran and Isfahan.

AN: The interesting thing about modernity in Morath’s photographs is that she doesn’t choose Tehran to represent it. Photographs of modern Iran usually refer to the more obvious sites: unveiled women, or the nightclubs and the cars, but Morath does not seek those obvious symbols. It is wrong to say that she doesn’t capture modernity though, because the oil industry was what made modernism possible in Iran. Morath pays attention to that; she chooses Abadan. Now, Abadan, obviously, was so much under the influence of the British. It was a place to itself, and insulated in many ways. Morath’s pictures of Abadan are interesting because of the way she sees things differently from other foreign photographers. For example, in one picture, showing foreign employees of the refinery at a British style pub, they’re so much at home, while in another, of Iranian employees at a picnic, they’re much less so. It seems as if the Iranians are the guests.

JJ: Of course, those photographs were never published. Nevertheless, one has the sense of Morath working against the grain of her assignments.

AN: But she’s very subversive. Having been told to take pictures of Persian carpets and the blue mosques, she goes on and shows us the little girls working in the carpet factories. In one of those pictures, where three girls are sitting on top and another little one below is looking at the camera, it is amazing because the carpet becomes an extension of the girls. It is a very telling picture. There is another photograph showing the girls’ hands that is so surreal, and rather frightening. The caption explains that they’re wearing henna to protect their hands but you don’t see that; that is not its purpose. The purpose is to shock, to enlighten you as to what goes on behind this beauty: this terrible, terrible labor involving such young children.

Most books of photography on Iran bring out the lush side, the colors, the obvious beauty. There is a lot of beauty in Morath’s photographs too, but it is a really understated beauty. It is a beauty that does not want you to find its secrets. There is a defensiveness in showing the country as all lush, as if we’re afraid to see anything ugly in it. That defensiveness is not there in Morath’s pictures. Although she photographs in black and white, I almost feel that earth color that is so Persian. The same with the dust, or the peelings on the walls. And the buildings, the doors; you know the beautiful old door in her photograph of Rey that is so old that it is almost there no more. It always made me melancholy, even in childhood, whenever there was something so fine and yet dying. There is a sense of melancholy here. In these crumbling buildings and patient people, I sense certain fierceness, a resistance to life’s cruelty. Such silent resistance belongs to a culture that has lived a long, long time and is suspicious of life’s promises.

There seems to be, in Iran, an awareness of two things: the past and the transience of life. The idea about the cruelty and transience of life is very much part of a nation that is so ancient and has been, time and time again, vanquished. On one level, instability has become a part of our national character. Iran is very enigmatic, even to someone like myself who was born there. As soon as you give it one definition something completely opposite emerges. For me, the essence of Iran is evasiveness and enigma. You feel this in the way that, in some of Morath’s pictures, one element undermines the other.

In the bazaar, for example, which is the most traditional of all places, you see all these objects of modernity hanging from the ceiling, the boots and the umbrellas. Everybody is roaming around and they all seem unaware of the clash. Again, in Isfahan she photographed a little boy mending a shoe, and right by him there is the photograph of a modern man looking completely unrelated to that little boy and that dingy shop. What is the relationship? Will they start talking?

Another thing that intrigued me about Morath was the way she treated her subjects, for example in her picture of a boy with brooms. Objects become extensions of the people in her pictures, or vice versa – sometimes people become extensions of objects – and there is an affinity between them. And I love her sense of movement, the way the brooms go up and down. She is portraying a very ordinary scene and yet manages to give it a surreal feeling. She brings out something of the essence. These objects all of a sudden become like fairy tale objects. I have a favorite picture of a shoemaker. There are women’s slippers in the background and there is something about his face that I just love. What is it about this man that I find so fairy taleish? I mean, he’s just sitting there mending shoes. What is magical is the man’s complete focus on his work, one that must be quite mundane and tiresome and yet he is so wholly dedicated to it.

Another example of movement is the dance. During the Nowruz, Morath has photographed young men and girls dancing. And in Persian dance, as in Arabic, there is so much eroticism in the movements. It is obviously asking you to look. It is amazing, the curve of the body. There is so much beckoning – with the eyes, the eyebrows, the hands. Every part of the body is curving in different directions, and every part is shamelessly asking you to look.

JJ: You’ve spoken about aspects of Morath’s photographs that are familiar or true to your experience of Iran. There must be others that reveal her as an outsider trying to penetrate the culture?

AN: One thing that surprised me was her photographs of the Caspian. It is the most magical place in my mind. As a child, we spent most of our vacations in the places she photographed, in Rasht, Pahlavi, and in Chalus. The Caspian is so lush, but she goes and photographs it in winter, which can be bleak. At first I couldn’t recognize it, although we had been in Chalus when it was snowing. For me, it was a strange defamiliarization process, looking at the stranger within something very familiar. I felt a deep resonance, and yet I had to adjust my eyes. Somehow the green was so strong in my memory that I didn’t think it could be this barren. That is what she seems to see in Iran: a certain barrenness.

And her mountains are different from other photographs of mountains in Iran. Most of those pictures present the mountains as majestic, and many focus on Damavand, the highest peak and a strong symbol of Iranian nationalism. But Morath photographed the mountains of southern Tehran, which are lower. When you have a landscape that is barren, when you have a mountain that is lost in the mist, when you have a Caspian scene shrouded by fog, all of this creates a sense of an absence that is as articulate as what is present and visible. It creates an air of mystery. There is a sense of mystery to her photos, as if not just the presences, but also the absences are speaking.

Maybe that’s how she saw. It could be, and this is pure speculation, that for her this place was itself a puzzle. She was photographing the mystery in her own eyes. Most people who go to Iran fall in love with it because people seem so welcoming. There is a welcome, but that doesn’t mean that people are opening to you. It means that they are treating you as a dear guest. So I thought, maybe that is how she feels, like a guest who’s trying to peek in. There is a shroud over many of the photographs, as if to say that what is there is not being wholly revealed. And if we cannot reveal everything, let’s have the idea that this place is defined as much by what it doesn’t reveal as by what it does.

Another thing that interested me is the way that some of Morath’s characters avoid looking at one another. For example, her photograph of the chibouk smoker in Tehran. There is a close proximity between the two men in the picture, and it’s obvious that they must know one another, but they are not interacting; I seldom see her characters interacting. Again in Rey, in her picture of the grandfather and young woman by the old gate. They’re not looking at one another; they’re not communicating. As in her photograph of the bus and the horse and buggy, they are parallel. It is very amazing, people living side by side and each in a world that is closed to the other; they’re strangers.

In her photographs of Nowruz though, people are very much communal, very much together. Nowruz is an ancient celebration. It is something that Iranians can genuinely say they share no matter what religion or ethnicity they come from. This is one of the few places where she shows people letting go. Another is the Zoroastrian ceremony in Chum, where the bodies are in very close proximity to one another. And these are all the more exciting because she captures a special quality of light.

I remember my Tehran and Isfahan, where there is a special quality of light. If I wanted to catch the essence of what Iran is to me, it is droplets of light, the shadows that light constantly plays. In Iran there is a sudden light, and that sudden light against the darkness is so startling, so surreal. You have it in all different places. Sometimes the light reveals and sometimes the light actually covers. Morath doesn’t always use the light to reveal. She also uses it to reveal the mystery. And the effects of the sun are what you see also in her pictures of the Nowruz celebrations. That discovery by her is what makes the difference between getting the spirit of a place and just showing a place. I have not yet found the language in words to describe what light did with our lives, how it changed us, but in photography you can do that. So if we want to be thankful to Morath for doing something about Iran, it should be for revealing something that is the essence of the country, which is light. This light can be overwhelming, and it can be joyous. It can be hiding. It can be mute and go against its own nature. All through her photographs you have these different statements about light.

JJ: I’m interested in what you said about Morath photographing the mystery in her own eyes. Looking at her photographs of Iran chronologically, the first place she went to after Tehran was the village of Vanack. The photographs that she took there rely heavily on convention, suggesting that she wasn’t sure of herself in this encounter with the unknown. But as she moved forward, her photographs become quite unconventional. The reason is not that Iran became less mysterious to her, but rather that she allowed that mystery to become a part of the story she was telling. For me, this goes back to the question of literature. Morath is more a narrative than a purely documentary photographer, and her narrative is in some part a story about herself.

AN: I have always thought of literature as a way of communicating, of connecting with the world. You connect to your topic and you connect to the unknown reader. But it was the subversive role, that no matter what you’re talking about you’re subverting it at the same time, that I loved; the idea that when you write you destabilize yourself. I feel that Morath destabilizes herself by subverting the usual way of looking at Iran.

Another thing I appreciate, and I think it’s also subversive, is that although she has traditional photographs of, for example, women in black chadors, she doesn’t exoticize them. Which is what so many, including some Iranians, do. Her photographs are not sentimental, and sometimes they can be harsh towards the subject. I mean, first of all, literature or art is always about truth, and truth has never been comforting. We reveal the harsh side of ourselves through our art, and tenderness only comes when you’re able to do that. Morath finds a way of bringing out the harshness, but also treating it tenderly. Giving it respect; that is the most important point. That is the difference between this selection and the earlier [1958] publication of these photographs in which the essayist is telling us, “This is how Iranians are.” He uses the language of authority, but with Morath there is just her own narrative: “I was there.”

In Iran’s classical literature there is an obliqueness, an oblique way of expressing things. It is so metaphoric, everything is so much by implication, and reality is presented as an expression of another world, a different sphere. I don’t know how familiar Morath was with Iranian literature, but in some of her pictures you can see that obliqueness, that muteness which also speaks. That is a very important point because the things that endure in art are the everyday things of life. There is, behind her body of work, a celebration of life, a celebration of a boy who sells brooms. That is why her objects have movements, because those objects are a statement about a life, no matter how harsh or seemingly trivial that life is. For me, the most important thing is the extraordinariness of the ordinary. That is why the writers I love are the ones who are genuinely realistic, who celebrate just us being who we are. Morath does that. The people she photographs are just people, but they are so much entwined with what they do, whether they’re nomads or shoe makers or bazaaris in their place of work. These are the things that will endure no matter how transient life is.

What she does with objects reminds me, in a very strange way, of Rumi, who was such a playful poet. He brought very ordinary objects into mystical poetry. He talks about brooms and sugar, and then he makes the brooms do magical things. In one poem, which I am paraphrasing, he says, “My beloved gave me a broom and asked me to clean the dust off the ocean.” All of a sudden the broom, dust, and ocean are displaced and separated from their original functions, gaining a magical dimension. In the best of Morath’s pictures you find a similar quality.

JJ: I wonder if it’s possible for a contemporary audience, particularly one of non-Iranian viewers, to see that quality? Monika Faber, in her article for this book, asks whether it is possible to view these photographs at all, except through the prism of Iran’s more recent political history?

AN: Of course, the interesting thing is how what we know will affect the way that we see. For example, about many of Morath’s pictures I could say, “This is not the Iran that I know.” Many of these places have vanished. But what is more interesting than that is what these pictures, taken fifty some years ago, tell us about the present. That is the test for pictures; everything dates, but how do they date? When I read our epic poet Ferdowsi, what I am amazed by is not just what he reveals about our past, but also how in a very strange way he predicts our future. What gives these pictures value is not the fact that we see something that still exists, but that they still reveal something significant, something essential that goes beyond the boundaries of time. I think that if a work of art is not particular then it cannot be universal. Universality comes out of going deeply into the moment. You need to have that particularity of the moment, and then you move beyond it. The moments she has recorded are enduring not just because they’re showing the 1950s, but because there’s a trace of 1950s in the present. That is the magic of it. That is the magic not of Inge, but of her art.

Anything that stays, that makes you, fifty years later, want to publish it, should go beyond just the artist’s views. That is why we read Aeschylus. I want to look at Morath’s pictures because I read Aeschylus. She really experienced the deepest of all cruelties during her lifetime. People who have experienced what she did understand that everything goes beyond politics. But I think that the point should be made that this book comes out not because of the Islamic Republic, not because of WMDs, not because Bush and Obama are talking about Iran, but because we need to connect as human beings.

I guess the duty of art, if there is a duty, is to restore our humanity. If you’re an artist and you look at the world through a political lens, you in fact miss the politics. I mean that politics itself needs a space, but by reducing everything to it everything is lost. That is why people are not really political right now; they’re politicized. They’re not thinking about politics the way Plato talked about it. Iran, especially, has been so categorized and politicized. Of course, people will look at these photographs and they will see the women with the chador and say, “There you are, they’ve always been like this.” But I’m hoping that those people will also look at the Nowruz dancers and say, “But who are they? Will the real Iranians stand up?”

Inge Morath, Iran

Inge Morath: Iran

Preface by John P. Jacob, Inge Morath Foundation.
From Inge Morath: Iran, Göttingen: Steidl, 2009.
Please also view the slideshow.

The place I longed to know had no political name. Inge Morath, 1990 ((Morath, Inge, in “Preface,” Russian Journal. (New York: Aperture Foundation, 1991), p. 7.)) Inge Morath came to Paris in 1949, to join Magnum Photos as a researcher and editor. She relocated to London in 1951, and was there apprenticed to Simon Guttman, founder of the legendary Dephot Agency in Berlin, where Robert Capa began his career as a photographer. After a few years selling her pictures under the pseudonym Agni Tharom – her own name spelled backward – Morath returned to Paris, and in 1953 she presented her photographs to Capa. He invited her to join Magnum as an associate member. She worked as an assistant to Henri Cartier-Bresson in 1954, and in ‘55, the year that she became a full member of Magnum Photos, traveled extensively in Europe. Being a greenhorn, as Morath later noted, most of her early assignments were jobs that did not interest Magnum’s “big boys.” ((Morath, Inge, in Magnum Stories. Chris Boot, ed. (New York: Phaidon, 2004), p. 339.)) In 1956, Morath made two trips to the Middle East for Holiday Magazine, one of Magnum’s most important clients. The assignment was a notable professional achievement for Morath, as it was among the earliest to take her outside Europe (she had traveled to South Africa in 1955, and would also go to the US and Mexico in ‘56). During March and April of that year she traveled to Iran, the partial fulfillment of her long-held dream to travel the Silk Road from Europe, through Persia, to China. After a brief return to Paris, she traveled on to Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, and Israel. The article that her photographs would accompany, with a text by foreign correspondent Alan Moorehead, was published in the December issue of Holiday. ((Alan McCrae Moorehead (22 July 1910 – 29 September 1983) had won an international reputation for his coverage of the Middle East during the Second World War.)) For Morath, she later wrote, it was the beginning of “the time of big stories and far-flung trips.” ((Morath, Inge, in “Berlin Lecture.” Undated manuscript, Archives, Inge Morath Foundation, New York, p. 26.))

In addition to her work for Holiday, Morath also had assignments to photograph for the Pepsi-Cola Corporation in Tehran and for Standard Oil in Abadan, and she documented the Shah’s celebration of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, at the Golestan Palace for a Magnum distribution. ((A story created for widespread media distribution rather than for a single publication.)) In total, she exposed more than one hundred rolls of black and white and approximately forty rolls of color film during her visit to Iran. ((Morath’s letters suggest that one reason for her return to Paris after five weeks in Iran, rather than traveling directly on to the other countries she had been assigned to cover, was that she had used up all her film there.)) A self-proclaimed frugal photographer who rarely devoted more than a few frames to a single subject, the range of Morath’s imagery, across more than 5,000 exposures, is extensive. In contrast to her many later journeys, Morath did not keep a personal journal in Iran, and the letters that survive, all to her family, provide few details about the places she visited and people she met along the way. Her traveling companion was Robert Delpire, who would publish Morath’s second monograph, De la Perse à l’Iran, in 1958. Recalling their journey after more than fifty years, Delpire described Morath working in Iran “without a precise idea of what we could do with the photos.” ((Interview with the author, Paris, March 5, 2008.)) Indeed, the shooting script supplied to Morath by Holiday listed only two subjects that were required for its coverage of Iran: carpets and the mosques of Isfahan. Morath’s notes and letters indicate that after a long week in Tehran spent waiting for their travel documents to arrive she and Delpire drove south to Shiraz, and from there flew to Abadan. Delpire departed there, returning to Paris with the film that Morath had exposed until that point. Morath then returned to Tehran, taking an alternate route. She spent altogether five weeks in Iran. Morath was not the first Magnum photographer to work in Iran, and as a former researcher and editor for the agency she would certainly have been familiar with the earlier reportage of Cartier-Bresson, from 1950, and fellow Austrian Erich Lessing, from 1952. But Morath’s approach to Iran was different from that of her colleagues. In contrast with Cartier-Bresson, who photographed in Iran as part of his extended work in Asia, and with Lessing, who worked there on a specific story (the 1952 locust plague), Morath was the first to focus broadly on the country itself. Seeking to report on the larger culture through encounters with its various constituencies, Morath’s photographs verge on the anthropological in their attention to common aspects of life – family, work, religious and creative expression, clothing, architecture, etc. – in each of the communities that she visited. The recurrence of these themes in Morath’s photographs would appear to contradict Delpire’s description of her unpremeditated working in Iran, and yet the seeming absence of an editorial agenda is one of the work’s notable characteristics. In fact, Morath’s attention to what Azar Nafisi has referred to as “the undercurrents of modernity and tradition” that run side by side in Iran served to underwrite the impression that she wished to convey of the richly layered history – sometimes conflicting and sometimes harmonious – of an ancient culture in transition. To achieve this, a precise idea about her subjects was not required so much as consistency in the way that she approached them. As a photographer, Morath’s approach to Iran was curiously at odds with the texts that her pictures accompanied. Although many of her photographs of Iran were reproduced by Holiday, Moorehead’s text mentions the country only in relation to the nations it borders, such as Iraq. Personally, Moorehead was repulsed by the modernity of oil rich countries such as Iran, preferring the more exotic “whiff of the lazy Arabian East.” ((Moorehead, Alan, “The Middle East,” Holiday Magazine vol. 20, no. 6 (1956), p. 59.)) Edouard Sablier, the French journalist whose text introduces De la Perse à l’Iran, expressed a similar disillusionment. “The traveler leaves for Persia, only to reach Iran,” Sablier noted in his opening paragraph. “He looks forward to nightingales and roses, to a glimpse of dark eyes beneath a deftly fastened veil, and finds for the most part very ordinary people, rather glum and shabbily dressed, in very ordinary streets.” ((Morath, Inge. De la Perse à l’Iran. (English edition, New York: Viking, 1960), unpaginated introduction.))

In Morath’s photographs, the seeming absence of any indicators of modernity serves a different motivation than orientalist nostalgia. Morath sought evidence of the endurance of tradition within new contexts, revealing both the past as a place of ongoing resistance to the present, and the present as unknowable except as it is revealed by the past. ((“What interests me,” she wrote, “is the continuity – or lack of it – between past and present. This is what […] is expressed in the title of my [book] From Persia to Iran.” Quoted in Carlisle, Olga, manuscript for Grosse Photographen unserer Zeit: Inge Morath. (Luzern: Verlag C.J. Bucher, 1975); Archives, Inge Morath Foundation, New York, p. 6.)) Only in the images produced for her assigned work for Holiday, Pepsi, and Standard Oil, is modernity unavoidably at hand. In these photographs Morath has, in each case, produced a counter-narrative to what was required by her clients. While photographing carpets for Holiday, she documented child labor; while photographing the oil refineries in Abadan, she documented the imbalances between native and foreign labor forces; and while photographing the new Pepsi bottling facility in Tehran, she documented the incursion of foreign goods and influence into the domestic economy. Thus, although the encroachment of the West was not her primary subject in Iran, neither was it one that she shied away from. In these images, Morath typifies the optimistic yet unswervingly critical style that would come to be known as “concerned photography.” ((The phrase was coined in the 1960s by Cornell Capa, Morath’s colleague at Magnum Photos, to describe photojournalists whose work demonstrated a humanitarian impulse to educate and change the world, not just record it.))

Nevertheless, as a reader of history Morath would have recognized these as contemporary political conflicts. Aware that a culture as ancient as Iran’s is densely layered, Morath was far more interested in documenting the persistence of Iran’s traditions than she was in their clash with Western values. For her, the continuity between past and present is expressed through the coming together, within a single photographic frame, of Zoroastrian, traditional Islamic, and contemporary Iranian life; in the ancient architecture of the bazaar, for example, where boots and umbrellas dangle from the ceiling and shoppers wear chadors. Such images offer a reconfiguration of the traditional understanding of “decisive moment” as a coming together of distinct historical, rather than optical, elements. In fact, Iranian modernity is not absent from Morath’s photographs, but conventional symbols of Western modernity are. A passionate interest in history, and an awareness of the difficulty in representing its complexity without falling back on convention, would remain central to Morath’s work, particularly in her later photographs of China and Russia. One of the most vexing questions about Morath’s photographs of Iran, given both the scope of the work and its great personal and professional importance, is why so few images were seen during her lifetime. ((After the publication of De la Perse à l’Iran in 1958, small selections of Morath’s photographs of the Middle East were presented in two retrospective exhibitions and their accompanying catalogs, Inge Morath: Fotografien 1952 – 1992 (exhibition: Salzburger Landssammlung Rupertinum; catalog: Salzburg: Otto Müller Verlag, 1992), and Inge Morath: Das Leben als Photographin (exhibition: Kunsthalle Wien; catalog: Munich: Gina Kehayoff Verlag, 1999). In both of these, Morath presented only her black and white photographs of Iran.)) While this question may never be answered definitively, the most likely reason, discovered during the making of this book, is that a light leak in her camera caused significant damage to many of her black and white negatives. Without access to a lab during her journey, Morath would not have known about the problem until after she had returned to Paris and examined her film. Prints made from the damaged negatives would either have to be cropped or in some way doctored to remove the black streak created by the light leak; in either case an undesirable flaw. For the young photographer, the damage to her film must have been an extraordinary disappointment.

It may also explain why Morath’s photographs published in De la Perse à l’Iran were predominantly color, in contrast to her earlier, largely black and white monograph with Delpire. ((Guerre à la Tristesse. Robert Delpire, ed. (Paris: Robert Delpire, 1955).)) Like many of her colleagues, Morath, at that time in her career, preferred black and white, producing color photographs primarily for her clients. ((Morath later worked extensively with color photography, and for some projects, particularly after the 1980s, used it exclusively.)) In Iran she worked with two cameras, one holding black and white film and the other holding color. Her second camera functioned flawlessly, and her color film came out fine. ((Morath also carried a Polaroid camera in Iran. According to Robert Delpire, she used it primarily to make portraits of nomads which were, in most cases, their first encounters with a photographic image. The making and giving of a Polaroid served as a kind of Introduction, which enabled Morath to then photograph freely within the encampments she visited (interview with the author, Paris, May 17, 2007). This is the only known professional usage of Polaroid materials by Morath. As no Polaroid prints remain in her archive, it is presumed that she gave them all away in Iran.)) Inge Morath: Iran is a reinvestigation of the black and white work from this important early assignment, something that would have been nearly impossible during Morath’s lifetime. Images were selected for inclusion by studying the markings and notations on Morath’s contact sheets for indications of personal preference. Her negatives were then scanned and digitally retouched to remove the light stain caused by her damaged camera. Finally, the photographs were sequenced in a roughly chronological order, in part for accuracy, and in part to preserve the way that Morath worked by creating a unique portrait of each community that she visited. ((The photographs are grouped geographically, then roughly chronologically, following Morath’s notes. Morath devoted the first leg of her journey, from Tehran to Abadan, to work for Magnum and for her book with Delpire, and the shorter, second leg largely to complete her assignments for Standard Oil and Pepsi-Cola.)) In addition to representing an important body of her photographs, Inge Morath: Iran also offers an opportunity for reassessment of the photographer herself. Morath’s visit to Iran provided her with the freedom to explore and develop her own vision as a photographer. Her distinct interest in the continuity between past and present in Iran, and the techniques that she deployed in order to illustrate that concept with her camera, provide key insights into Morath’s later work. Although photography was the primary means through which Morath found expression, her camera was but one of many tools in a kit to which she continued to add throughout her lifetime. In addition to the many languages in which she was fluent, Morath was also a prolific diary and letter-writer, a dual gift for words and pictures that was unusual among her colleagues. Morath was also atypical in her working practices, rejecting many of the precepts common to photojournalism of the period. Chris Boot, a former director of Magnum Photos, has written of Morath that: She did not pursue events […] and so her work lacks the drama of some of her colleagues. Nor was she given to moral rhetoric. Rather, she unsentimentally made pictures that were guided by her relationship to a place. These relationships were invariably intimate and long lasting… Similarly, her photographs of people are born of intimacy without sentimentality. It is as if the presentation of relationships takes the place of story structure, and her work is best understood as an ongoing series of observations of the life she made for herself. ((Magnum Stories, op. cit., p. 338.))

Morath’s photographs comprise a highly personal view of Iran; less a body of objective knowledge than a catalog of personal encounters. Not surprisingly for such a young artist, her images reach across photographic history, ranging from picturesque conventionality, in her photographs of the village of Vanack, to pointed commentary, in Abadan. But in her subjective and unsentimental approach, and in her free-ranging narrative structure, Morath’s work points forward to the future of photography. In this respect, as Monika Faber notes, Morath’s work in Iran is perhaps more closely allied to the contemporaneous work of Robert Frank – whose book Les Américans was published by Delpire almost simultaneously with De la Perse à l’Iran – than to the Magnum colleagues with whom she is more frequently compared. ((Morath would certainly have been familiar with Frank’s photographs through Delpire, who had published Frank’s work alongside photographs by Magnum colleagues Cartier-Bresson, in the revue NEUF, in 1952, and Werner Bischof, in the book Indiens pas Morts, in 1956. The title of Morath’s De la Perse à l’Iran is a parallel to that of the English language edition of Indiens pas Morts, Incas to Indios. Moreover, Morath’s working “without a precise idea,” that Delpire encouraged of her in Iran, is similar to the style of Frank’s photography in Peru, which he described as “[…] very free with the camera. I didn’t think of what would be the correct thing to do; I did what I felt good doing,” quoted in The Pictures Are a Necessity: Robert Frank in Rochester, NY November 1988, William S. Johnson, ed. (Rochester: International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, 1989), p. 30.)) Above all, Morath’s work is distinguished by the fact that she approached her subjects through the same prism of intellectual history to which she also sought to contribute. She prepared for assignments by immersing herself in the history and literature of the places she intended to visit, rather than relying on visual tropes and social stereotypes. More importantly, she rejected the notion of photographic objectivity; the authoritative position of standing outside the picture looking in. “Inge Morath,” as former Magnum director John Morris has noted, “was a part of history more than she was a witness to it.” ((Interview with the author, Paris, May 17, 2007.)) She recognized herself – as a photographer, but also as a human subject – as a participant in the larger historical document comprised by her photography. Uniquely among her Magnum colleagues, Morath was a diarist who wrote with images. The thread that connects her work is time; the convergence of intellectual history and social memory within the photographic moment.

Inge Morath & Arthur Miller in China

Well Disposed and Trying to See: Inge Morath & Arthur Miller in China

Introduction by John P. Jacob, Inge Morath Foundation, for the exhibition Inge Morath and Arthur Miller: China, University of Michigan Art Museum, Ann Arbor, 2008. Please also see the slideshow.

There is an underlying thread that runs through Inge Morath’s work, which is most clearly articulated in her larger projects. Having witnessed as a young woman the devastation of the Second World War, as an adult Morath experienced its impact over time and across geographical, political, and economic borders. In her photographs of Spain, Russia, and China, for example, made over a span of many years, she documented the evidence of ongoing clashes between tradition and modernity. Rather than photographing conflicts, however, Morath focused on the ways in which, even under the most oppressive circumstances, the human creative spirit finds expression: through social and religious rituals, posturing and costuming, through work, sport, and through dance, music, art, and theater. The thread that runs through Morath’s life–and through her life’s work in photography–is an affirmation that the human spirit endures through such creative self-expression. A linguist first and only later a photographer, Morath wrote that in the years following the Second World War, during which time she moved from Austria to France, then to England and, finally, back to France, she was “without a voice.” Ashamed to use her mother tongue, as Arthur Miller has noted, Morath “found herself in a defensive position in London and Paris.” “I often found myself silently observing rather than talking,” Morath wrote. Thus, in spite of her linguistic training, it was not until she became a photographer that Morath found the means to truly express herself. “It was instantly clear to me that… I finally had found my language,” she wrote of the experience of making her first pictures in 1952. “As I continued to photograph… I knew that I could express the things that I wanted to say by giving them form through my eyes.” Though photography remained the primary means through which Morath continued to express herself, it was but one of many languages in a toolkit to which she continued to add throughout her lifetime. As a photojournalist, Morath’s facility with languages diminished the degree to which she was regarded as an outsider by her subjects, granting her access to places where strangers might not otherwise be welcome. This is a key difference between Morath and those of her contemporaries who preferred to keep an “objective” distance from their subjects. Morath’s pictures are more directly a reflection of her experience of the world than they are neutral documents of it. As former Magnum director Chris Boot has written of Morath’s photographs, “the presentation of relationships takes the place of story structure, and her work is best understood as an ongoing series of observations about the life she made for herself.” It was a life lived on a grand scale. For Morath, who came to Magnum Photos in 1949 as a researcher and joined as a photographer in 1953-’54, the opportunity to travel and work in distant lands was crucial. She toured Europe in the early 1950s with Henri Cartier-Bresson, for whom she worked as an assistant, then traveled alone to Spain in 1954, South Africa in 1955, and the Middle East in 1956. In 1958, she followed the Danube from source to end, then journeyed through Tunisia, the United States, and Mexico in the early 1960s. Morath preferred to work in “countries whose influence extends beyond their borders; ‘mother cultures,” and she dreamed of traveling the Silk Road, from Europe through Persia to China.

“Before I start a project I like to look into its background,” Morath wrote. “I belong to the school of photographers who like to prepare themselves thoroughly for a trip to a new country.” In addition to its language, Morath studied the art and literature of each country that she visited in order to encounter its culture fully. Already fluent in French, Spanish, German, English, and Romanian, in the 1960s Morath studied Russian and, together with Miller, traveled to the USSR. Then, in the early ‘70s, in anticipation of the eventual fulfillment of her dream of traveling to China, Morath enrolled in the Berlitz School of Languages to learn Mandarin Chinese. She would continue her studies of Chinese language and culture for the remainder of her life, noting more than once the pleasantly soporific effect that Chinese grammar had on her. In many respects, Morath’s photographs and the writings of Arthur Miller are two sides of the same coin. For Americans of Miller’s generation, as he noted in his autobiography Timebends, “Europe was the place where the thinking was going on, or so you tended to imagine.” For Europeans of Morath’s generation, by comparison, “America was the despair and secret hope of… intellectuals.” Miller had traveled to Europe in the late 1940s, soon after the end of the Second World War, but generally preferred to remain close to home and to his work. Morath first encountered Miller in 1960, on the set of The Misfits in Reno, Nevada. Miller had written the screenplay, and Morath was one of a team of Magnum photographers hired to document its filming. She was, by comparison with Miller, the worldlier of the two, and after they were married, in 1962, Morath and Miller traveled frequently together and collaborated on four books combining his words with her photographs. Reflecting on the importance of Morath’s linguistic gifts to their shared projects, Miller wrote that to “travel with her was a privilege because [alone] I would never have been able to penetrate that way.”

In the late ‘70s, Morath and Miller were invited by the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries to travel within China, and they made the first of several journeys in 1978 (Morath returned alone in 1979, and again with Miller, for the staging of Death of a Salesman in Beijing, in 1983). Morath’s journals reflect the depth of her experience of Chinese culture. They also reveal her recurrent frustration with the camera’s limited ability to capture the nuances of light and life in China. The frequent surprised, staring faces that distinguish her photographs of China confirm the difficulty that her journals describe for a foreign photographer to go unnoticed by her subjects in a nation where, only a short time before, the presence of foreigners was limited and communication with them restricted. China was one of the few countries to which she traveled where, in spite of her fluency in Mandarin, Morath remained an outsider. Morath’s journals complain bitterly of her inability to blend in, and thus empathically to comprehend. Describing Inge Morath at work, her friend and collaborator Olga Carlisle wrote that she charmed her subjects like a snake charmer hypnotizes cobras, sometimes performing an almost ritualistic dance to draw them out. Morath described her working method similarly. Photographing the streets of San Fermin, Spain, as the town celebrated its annual Running of the Bulls in 1954, Morath described her total immersion into the noise and chaos of the festival. “There is no more stopping,” she wrote. “I have to dance too, I can’t help it. I dance with my cameras in front of the people and behind them and they laugh and let me work.” “Her involvement with her subject is total,” Carlisle wrote. “It is as if she was becoming the other person, the landscape, the still life.” In China, however, Morath’s and Miller’s movements were limited to what policy and the interests of their individual guides would permit. China is experienced as something outside the window of a large black car which refuses to stop for her; a series of briefing rooms and banquets. For Miller, contact with China is achieved through probing; for Morath, through dining. Encounters with one superbly cooked dish after another, meal after meal, is as close to a sustained, satisfying dance with China as Morath’s handlers would allow her.

Thus, as its title suggests, this book presents the reflections of two Americans, “well disposed and trying to see and listen” as they encountered China and the Chinese. Just as it shows their experience of China’s historical culture through images of the sites they visited, the book also portrays Morath’s and Miller’s experience of China’s contemporary culture through meetings with its most notable representatives: actors, writers, painters, and others, many of whom had suffered during the Cultural Revolution. Their texts stress the importance of these human encounters between artists from different cultures who discover, through work and conversation, that they share a great deal in common. Morath’s underlying thread emerges most strongly through her descriptions and photographs of these encounters, tracing the history of an exchange that began in conversations between these American visitors with their Chinese hosts, and culminated, five years later, in the cross-cultural collaboration to produce Death of a Salesman in Beijing. “I am especially interested in photographing in countries where a new tradition emerges from an ancient one,” Morath wrote. Certainly, China in 1978 was a country where civilization and development were subject to critical scrutiny, and both ancient and modern traditions were being publicly re-examined for their validity within a culture of change. What distinguishes Inge Morath’s photographs of China from other, similar bodies of work, is her urgent desire to comprehend, and to convey in pictures, what Miller describes as “China’s contradiction;” the ongoing struggle of new traditions in conflict with ancient ones. Although Morath is drawn to the beautiful and mysterious, the intensity of her experience and the intractability of her subject defy simplification. Morath encountered China as an irresolvable question, a dialogue between tradition and modernity within which beauty and tyranny collide again and again. The awareness of China’s greatness, and of the concurrent greatness of her tragedy, is pervasive.