Category Archives: Research


Inge Morath: 101 Fashion & Celebrity Photos

101 Fashion & Celebrity Photos by Inge Morath (a publication preview)

Essay will play automatically, hover over image for additional options

One need look no further than Morath’s Master Story List, the index to her assignments and projects, to conclude that she was neither a fashion photographer nor a paparazzi. In fact, during her early years as a “greenhorn” at Magnum, Morath was frequently given fashion related assignments that were of lesser interest to her senior colleagues. We may speculate that stories on debutantes coming out in London (Mayfair and Soho, 1953), fairs and dog shows (Puck’s Fair and Cruft’s Dog Show, both 1954), and the Bal d’Hiver in Paris (1954), were among the subjects regarded as more appropriate for a younger member, and perhaps also as more appropriate to her gender. (During the 1950s Morath was, together with Eve Arnold, one of only two female members of the agency.) Indeed, during her first three years with Magnum, Morath was assigned numerous “feminine” subjects, such as Mrs. David Niven (1953), the Duchess of Marlborough at Blenheim Palace (1954), and Lola de Vilato (1955), sister of Pablo Picasso, as well as stories on American Girls in Paris and the Beauty and the Beast Fashion Show (both Paris, 1954).

According to Morath, before sending her off to work on an early story in Spain (Generation Women, 1955), Robert Capa insisted that she start to dress “like a lady.” “I took his advice,” she later wrote, “and my reward was the look on his face when I showed up in my first Balenciaga.” Morath had been introduced to the now legendary designer while working on another “feminine” subject, a portrait of Marie Louise Bosquet, Paris editor of Harper’s Bazaar (1955).

In many stories of her stories from the 1950s, we find an early hint of Morath’s interest in fashion as related to style and costuming, themes which would re-appear in her later, large-scale projects considering the relationship of performance to personal identity. Morath’s pictures, as pictures, are beautiful, but they are also self-reflexive statements about photography itself, and the photographic construction of beauty. In her documentation of the Beauty and the Beast Fashion Show, for example, Morath photographed the runway models from behind, in unflattering silhouette, and outdoors surrounded by gawking onlookers and photographers; in one, the photographer bends the model’s back and neck to grotesquely follow the line of her dog’s back and neck. The dog is to the model, in these pictures, what the model is to the photographer: an obedient accessory. The Beauty and the Beast series is perfectly complimented by a picture from 1958, in which a dog, also photographed from behind, is seated in the place of honor at a fashion show. A model, on a makeshift runway of carpets, stands directly in front of the dog in her fur coat, gazing blankly into Morath’s camera.

Similarly, in her work on film and stage sets, Morath invariably sought to capture the mise-enscène. Like many Magnum photographers, Morath worked as a still photographer on numerous motion picture sets. John Huston’s Moulin Rouge (1953) was one of her earliest assignments, and was her first time working in a film-studio. Having fulfilled the requirements of the story by photographing the stars, Zsa Zsa Gabor and José Ferrer, Morath also carefully documented make-up artists at work and dancers resting between takes. While photographing Huston’s The Unforgiven (1960), starring Audrey Hepburn, Burt Lancaster, and Audie Murphy, Morath accompanied the director and his friends duck hunting on a mountain lake outside Durango, Mexico. Photographing the excursion, Morath saw through her telephoto lens that Murphy had capsized his boat 350 feet from shore, and that, stunned, he was drowning. A skilled swimmer, Morath stripped to her underwear and towed Murphy ashore by her bra strap while the hunt continued uninterrupted. Morath worked again with Huston in 1960, on The Misfits, a blockbuster film featuring Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, and Montgomery Clift, with a screenplay by Arthur Miller. Magnum Photos had been given exclusive rights to photograph the making of the movie, and Morath and Henri Cartier-Bresson were the first of nine photographers to work on location, outside Reno, Nevada, during its filming. Morath met Miller while working on The Misfits, and, following Miller’s divorce from Monroe, they were married on February 17, 1962.

The videos best porn tube site is a tube site which is a common place for those looking for the finest in adult entertainment. There are thousands of people who visit this popular tube site and more join every day. If you want to watch some of the best adult films or porn model nude photo, you will need to find a good tube site which can give you access to these movies.
As with anything there are many good ones out there and here are our videos best porn tube review. Watch free Anna Kendrick nude on

At home and wherever she traveled, Morath sought out, befriended, and photographed fellow artists. During the ‘50s she photographed Jean Arp and Alberto Giacometti, among others, for Robert Delpire’s magazine L’Oeil. She met the artist Saul Steinberg in 1958. When she went to his home to make a portrait, Steinberg came to the door wearing a mask that he had fashioned from a paper bag. After she re-located to the US, Morath and Steinberg collaborated on a series of portraits, inviting individuals and groups of people to pose for Morath wearing Steinberg’s masks. Morath also worked collaboratively with her husband on several projects, including the books In Russia (1969) and Chinese Encounters (1979), which documented their meetings with dissident artists and writers in the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. Throughout their forty-year long marriage, Morath extensively documented productions of Miller’s plays, bringing her into contact with a wide range of stage actors, including Faye Dunaway (After the Fall, 1963), Vanessa Redgrave (Playing for Time, 1979), and Dustin Hoffman (Death of a Salesman, 1975). During the ‘70s, she also regularly documented productions of the Circle In the Square Theatre and the Living Theatre, and in ’77 she produced a story on the all-female Takarazuka Theatre in Japan. With Miller’s election as the first American president of PEN, in 1965, Morath also increasingly focused on portraits of writers, among the most poignant of which are those of women, including Janet Flanner (1973) and Elizabeth Hardwick (1978), as well as Cosmopolitan Magazine editor Helen Gurley Brown (1982).

In her life, as in her photographic work, Inge Morath celebrated the ways that the human creative spirit finds expression: through social and religious rituals, posturing and costuming, through work, sport, and through dance, music, art, and theatre. Like many of her early Magnum colleagues, in the early years of her career Morath was motivated by a fundamental humanism, shaped as much by the experience of war as by its lingering shadow over post-war Europe. This motivation grew, in Morath’s mature work, into a motif as she documented the endurance of the human spirit under situations of transformation and duress. If a thread can be said to run through her work from beginning to end, it is the marvel of human creativity, which Morath both documents and exemplifies in her photography. What distinguishes Inge Morath’s work from that of her colleagues is the consistency of her eye for life’s brilliant theatricality. Whether photographing festivals or artists’ studios, on film sets or on the street; whether photographing celebrities or strangers, on the street or on a fashion runway, Morath invariably encountered the world around her as a stage for the performance of life, each of her subjects contributing equally to its beauty.

Inge Morath: Fashion & Celebrity (forthcoming from Steidl) will present a selection of approximately 200 black-and-white and color photographs which tie together the many disparate creative subjects examined by Morath during her 50 year career. In these photographs, we encounter both Morath’s gentle humor and her exquisite sensitivity as she captures the vulnerability of her subjects opening themselves to her. In the process, we re-discover Morath as a photographer with a unique and long-lasting vision for the emergence of new forms of creativity from traditional ones. The depth and the motivation for her vision are illuminated by Morath’s own words: “survival should never be allowed to render the past harmless.”

Refugees in the Middle East (1960)

Inge Morath: Refugees in the Middle East

Essay will play automatically, hover over image for additional options

In 1957, Yul Brynner starred in The Journey, a movie about the Hungarian Revolution directed by Anatole Litvak. Filmed in Austria, the actors included a group of refugees, displaced from their homes during the Revolution, cast as extras. Magnum photographers Inge Morath and Ernst Haas, Austrian natives who had worked together in Vienna during the early post-war years, were assigned to the set, and Morath—always drawn to the mise en scène—made a series of compelling portraits of the refugee actors. Brynner later wrote that the film marked his first real encounter with refugees.

Two years later, the United Nations declared 1959 World Refugee Year, and Brynner was recruited as Special Consultant to UN High Commissioner for Refugees “to assist in efforts to bring to the attention of people all over the world the problems of refugees and the possibilities for their solution.” A serious photographer himself—his pictures were distributed by Magnum Photos—Brynner invited Inge Morath to travel with him to refugee camps in Europe and the Middle East.

In 1960, they published Bring Forth The Children, a photographic report on the plight of refugee children. They also collaborated on a related exhibition, and Morath published a story under her own byline in the periodical DU.

For Morath, the commission would have been especially poignant. A university student in Berlin during the Second World War, when Morath declined to join the National Socialist student organization she was drafted for factory service, where she worked alongside prisoners of war. When the factory she had been assigned to was bombed, Morath joined the masses of refugees made homeless by the war, and she returned to Austria on foot. Many years later, at Magnum Photos, Morath refused to photograph war, preferring to work on stories that expose its dire consequences.

This small selection of photographs represents the preliminary work towards a forthcoming project of the Inge Morath Foundation, in cooperation with Magnum Photos, the Estate of Yul Brynner, and Steidl. The accompanying captions are by Inge Morath and Yul Brynner, from Bring Forth the Children.

Gemma Padley: Lost and Found

Lost and Found: Inge Morath First Color

By Gemma Padley. Published in Amateur Photographer, January 27, 2010.

When you think of photojournalism from long ago, do you immediately think in colour or black & white? Perhaps Robert Capa’s heroic war images or W Eugene Smith’s photo essays spring to mind. Yet while photojournalists of the 1950s and ’60s were capturing events in black & white, they were also documenting life in colour.

Inge Morath photographed in both black & white and colour from the beginning of her career. She produced a phenomenal number of photographs, but much of her colour work lay undiscovered for many years. Most published collections of her work featured predominantly black & white images, with very little of her colour work being shown during her lifetime.

Determined to get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding Inge’s displaced colour photography, John Jacob, curator at the Inge Morath Foundation, set out to track down her ‘lost’ colour images in 2007. The result is the recently published book First Color, featuring a selection of Inge’s colour work. While not intended to be a complete record of her colour work – an almost impossible task, says John – the book sheds light on Inge’s working methods and provides a fascinating historical look at colour photojournalism.

Mammoth task

Recovering the images was a mammoth task that involved searching through thousands of colour slides from the Magnum archives. At Magnum, colour transparencies were stored in a different way to black & white negatives. While the black & white negs were carefully marked with the photographer’s name and photo story to preserve the integrity of the photographer, the colour slides were simply filed under ‘themes’ and fell into stock. Some 15,000 of Inge’s colour images were separated from their original picture stories and ‘lost’ in the system in this way.

‘When we started this project, there was no means of accessing the colour images to get this material back,’ says John. ‘No index system existed. To identify all Inge’s images stored by Magnum would require staff to remember what had been filed where and these people have moved on. We may never know the full scope of the colour archive.’

Faced with such a daunting task, John and his team limited themselves to searching only the 1950s and ’60s archives. Realising the way the colour images had been stored would make it difficult to locate and piece together the photo stories in their entirety, their aim was to retrieve as many images as they could and retrace – as far as possible – Inge’s movements as a colour photographer during this period.

‘We had to find a way to put the images together that would reflect the way Inge worked,’ says John, ‘so we decided to order the images chronologically and use the places she’d visited as the basis for the book.’

Inge’s background

Before joining Magnum in the early 1950s, Inge worked with Ernst Haas as a researcher and editor on picture stories for magazines such as Life. She assisted Henri Cartier-Bresson and travelled all over the world photographing the people and places she encountered. After the 1960s, Inge pursued more personal projects with her husband, the playwright Arthur Miller, continuing to shoot in both black & white and colour.

‘During the 1950s and ’60s, Inge was sent on many assignments’ says John. ‘One of her first assignments was in Spain, a country she returned to several times. She travelled there with Cartier-Bresson in 1953 to photograph Picasso for Holiday magazine and formed a close friendship with him. Inge did a lot of research before each trip, but looking at her work there is no agenda. She would enter the culture of a place and into the lives of the people – her subject was people.’

Jinx Rodger, widow of founding Magnum member George Rodger, knew Inge well and worked with her in Paris in the early 1950s. ‘Inge was a busy lady and travelled a lot,’ she says. ‘She was very bubbly and enthusiastic. People warmed to her. When she was an assistant, I remember her saying how she wanted to do something on her own, away from other photographers.’

Scepticism and distrust

For many photographers of that period, the advent of colour film was met with scepticism and even distrust. ‘There was a wider cultural prejudice towards colour,’ says John. ‘Colour film was new and people didn’t trust it – many photographers felt they didn’t know the film the way they knew black & white. There was a lack of confidence – not in their abilities, but in the actual film as a medium.’

Magazines may have wanted colour images, but colour was not seen as an art form, as Jinx remembers. ‘The idea of photography being “art” is a much more recent concept,’ she says. ‘The purpose of photography was to document, to show the world what the world was about. It was expensive to make a good colour print and while Inge loved using colour, like other photographers of the period she wasn’t overly concerned about making colour prints’.

Capa encouraged Magnum photographers to shoot in colour to meet the demand from magazines, but there was a sense, both within and outside of Magnum, that colour was inferior or less important than black & white. ‘It’s often the case that what’s popular is what’s scorned,’ says John. ‘But whatever prejudices may have existed, the photographers didn’t pay any less attention to colour – they were professional. They didn’t suddenly become any less competent because they were working in colour.’

Henri Cartier-Bresson

One photographer who was reluctant to embrace colour film was Henri Cartier-Bresson. As Inge knew him well, did the fact that she was working closely with him influence her opinion of colour?

‘Inge and Henri must have spoken about photography, but I don’t think they would have discussed colour film specifically,’ says John. ‘Henri’s opinions on colour photography had an impact on all the photographers at Magnum. He had a passion for surrealism, and both he and Inge were interested in the world and how art and photography fitted into it. That is most likely how they influenced each other.’

Jinx’s views echo those of John. ‘Henri didn’t like to take colour images, so I doubt they would have spoken about colour photography,’ she says. ‘He preferred working in black & white – that was his medium. Some photographers see the world in black & white and some see in colour. Occasionally, photographers see in both, but usually they feel more comfortable working with one or the other.’

Colour or black & white?

After initially using a single Leica camera, Inge switched to two cameras – one for colour and the other for black & white. ‘Like most photojournalists, she wanted to work quickly,’ says John. ‘It wasn’t practical to keep switching films every time she saw something she wanted to shoot in colour.’

Inge, also an avid writer, contemplated the two different ways of working. ‘If I had to do colour and black & white simultaneously,’ she wrote, ‘I would finish one and then do the other trying not to think of both at the same time. The thinking is so different!’

Jinx echoes these sentiments. ‘Certainly, photographers approach shooting in colour differently to black & white,’ she says. ‘But Inge had an extremely open mind towards photography. The medium she chose depended on how she saw the scene at the time. She looked at the subject and decided which would be the best way to show it.

‘Inge worked hard technically and really studied the properties of colour. If you have that sort of eye and imagination, you know whether a scene demands colour or black & white.’

John doesn’t believe Inge preferred one medium to the other. ‘The people I spoke with who knew her – for example, Jimmy Fox, who was picture editor at Magnum’s Paris office for many years – said she was just as active and enthusiastic about colour as she was about black & white,’ he says. ‘Inge was committed to photography in all its capacities.’

Great storyteller

‘When I look at her work, I see a great storyteller,’ says John. ‘Inge wrote about everything she photographed and I see a strong narrative impulse in her. I think she had a great sense of humour – she saw things in the world that were unusual, funny or contradictory, which could be pulled out and framed by photography.’

Inge may never have set out to create abstract images, but there are slight elements of surrealism in some of her work. In the image ‘Reno, Nevada, USA, 1960’ (see page 25), a woman is pictured driving, framed by another car in the foreground. This ‘frame within the frame’ technique gives the photograph a graphic appearance and causes the viewer to feel as though they are present in the scene, looking through the window as the photographer presses the shutter. Ernst Haas, with whom Inge worked closely, was known for his abstract compositions. Could he have influenced her in some way?

‘Inge was, to some extent, influenced by Ernst and his experiments in colour, but she didn’t work in an abstract way like he did,’ says Jinx. ‘I think she felt if you photographed in colour you could faithfully show how the scene looked at the time. She worked hard to make sure the colours were genuine.’

Colour and composition

Founding Magnum photographer Robert Capa is reported to have said that the first rule was ‘lots of colour where colour is’ and Inge herself believed ‘colour has to be there’ to photograph it. ‘Inge used colour very skilfully,’ says John. ‘In her early images she sought out colourful subjects in the urban landscape. By the later images – those taken on her trips to Iran, for example – colour became an intrinsic part of the scene, integrated into her entire photographic process.’

One especially striking image is ‘Market, Mexico, 1959’. In the background, brightly coloured scarves cascade over one another while silhouetted figures shuffle inconspicuously past in the foreground. These shadowy figures cut such a dramatic shape against the colourful backdrop that it is impossible not to question whether the composition would have had the same impact if it had been taken in black & white. ‘To me this picture is entirely about the colour,’ says John. ‘Many of Inge’s other pictures use colour to relay a narrative, but this picture is based so heavily on form and colour it becomes the story in itself.’

Where next?

One thing is clear: if the Foundation is to continue to piece together Inge’s photographic legacy, there is more work to be done. ‘We have only scratched the surface,’ says John. ‘There must be thousands more images we have yet to uncover. The ultimate aim is to reintegrate Inge’s colour images with the black & white to piece together how she worked on a single story using both black & white and colour film.’

John would like to see more research carried out into colour photojournalism during this period as a whole. ‘The book, I hope, takes us closer to understanding this important period of photographic history,’ he says. ‘I feel we have opened the floodgates to this discussion.’

Inge Morath, First Color

Inge Morath: First Color

Afterword by John P. Jacob, Inge Morath Foundation.
From Inge Morath: First Color, Göttingen: Steidl, 2009.
Please also see the slideshow.

Inge Morath’s achievements, during the early years of her career as a photographer, were significant. After an apprenticeship in London with Simon Guttman, founder of the legendary Dephot Agency, followed by two years as a researcher and assistant to Henri Cartier-Bresson, in 1955 Morath was the first woman to become a full member of Magnum Photos. ((Morath came to Mangum in 1949, as a researcher and editor. She relocated to London in ‘51, and began her apprenticeship with Guttman around that time. Morath was likely introduced to Guttman by Robert Capa, who had learned photography from him in the early 1930s. It was certainly Capa who suggested that Morath train with Cartier-Bresson during her first years as a Magnum photographer. Eve Arnold was the first woman to become associated with Magnum as a photographer, in 1951, but she did not join as a full member until 1957.)) Like many of her Magnum colleagues, Morath was motivated by a fundamental humanism, shaped as much by the experience of war as by its lingering shadow over post-war Europe. This motivation grew, in Morath’s mature work, into a motif, as she documented the endurance of the human spirit under situations of duress and transformation. If a thread can be said to run through her work from beginning to end, it is the marvel of human creativity, which Morath both recorded and exemplified in her photography. Throughout her career, publishing was the primary means by which Inge Morath sought to reach her audience. In all, Morath published more than thirty monographs, as well as numerous anthologies and, in keeping with her work as a photojournalist, stories in a wide variety of picture magazines. From an historical perspective—contrasting whole bodies of pictures with their highly edited, published counterparts—the breadth of Morath’s publishing activity provides key insights into the ways that she thought about her work, both as individual images and as an oeuvre spanning fifty years. An overview of Morath’s publications is particularly revealing in relation to her work in color.

For the purposes of such an overview, Morath’s career may be divided into three periods, each coinciding with significant—and significantly different—publishing activities. Morath’s short, early period, from the mid-1950s until she relocated to the United States in 1962, coincides with the “classic” era of modern photography magazines and books, when the published image took on equal or greater importance in relation to its accompanying text. Her description of this period as “the time of big stories and far-flung trips” ((Morath, Inge, in Berlin Lecture. Undated manuscript, Archives, Inge Morath Foundation, New York, p. 26.)) is reflected in the subjects of her first two monographs, Guerre a la Tristesse (1955) and De la Perse a l’Iran (1958), edited and published by Robert Delpire, himself a pioneer of photographic publishing. ((The English language editions of Morath’s first two books were published as Fiesta in Pamplona (1956) and From Persia to Iran (1958). In 1961, together with photographers André Martin and Marc Riboud, Morath also contributed to Delpire’s anthology Tunisie: De Carthage à demain.)) Morath’s middle period, from the early ‘60s through the mid-1980s, is defined by long-term international projects, notably her three collaborations with her husband, playwright Arthur Miller, In Russia (1969), In the Country (1977), and Chinese Encounters (1979). The second of these is particularly interesting as a document of Morath’s rather cool observations of her adoptive homeland. In this period too, following a lifelong interest in portraiture, Morath published Inge Morath: Portraits (1986) with Aperture Books, and edited the anthology Paris: Magnum Photographs 1935 – 1981 (1981), also for Aperture. In her extraordinarily productive late period, from the mid-1980s until her death in 2002, Morath returned to several of her important early projects. In Donau (1995), for example, she revisited and completed a body of work begun in the late ‘50s, documenting the Danube River from source to end, while in Venezia (2003), she revisited the work done for her book Venice Observed (1956), with writer Mary McCarthy. Russian Journal (1991) greatly expanded upon Morath’s earlier book with Arthur Miller, In Russia, and Saul Steinberg Masquerade (2000), perhaps the best known of Morath’s many books, saw the long-awaited publication of her collaboration with Steinberg during the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. Morath’s late period is also notable for two important publishing partnerships. Working with the Spanish editor and curator Lola Garrido, Morath produced three books of her extensive early work in Spain: Inge Morath: España Años 50 (1994), San Fermin Años 50 (1997), and Camino de Santiago (1998). And, working with two Austrian colleagues, photographer Kurt Kaindl and editor Brigitte Blüml, Morath produced a series of books bringing together old and new work on a variety of subjects, including the aforementioned Donau and Venezia, as well as New York (2002) and Durch Österreich (2005). ((Durch Österreich, roughly translated as in, or through, Austria, was begun before Morath’s death and published posthumously.)) Morath, Kaindl, and Blüml also produced a major retrospective monograph, Inge Morath: Fotografien 1952 – 1992 (1992), and a second book of portraits in 1999. In her final book, Last Journey (2003), Morath, accompanied by the German filmmaker Regina Strassegger, returned the Austrian/Slovenian borderland of her childhood to document its historically and politically contested ground and communities. Of all her publications, Last Journey is the most explicit in its acknowledgment that Morath recognized herself as a participant in the larger historical document comprised by her photography. The project suggests that a further turning point in her career, in which Morath at last brought together her photographs with the extended texts that she so often wrote about her subjects, was cut short by her untimely death. ((Having begun at Magnum as a researcher and caption writer for other photographers, throughout her own career Morath wrote extensive texts about her subjects. From the 1950s and ‘60s these include anecdotal notes—such as her nine typed pages on obtaining an audience with the British royal family in 1954—as well as biographical, geographical, and cultural research. After the 1960s, Morath also wrote extended journals; during her first visit to China, in 1978, she typed over 200 pages. In her later years, Morath wrote a collection of biographical sketches of many of the subjects of her portraits. In an interview with the author (March 27, 1008, in New York), Morath’s friend and neighbor, Tom Cole, noted that towards the end of her career she was especially eager to find a way to successfully bring her words together with her pictures.))

Color photography, while not entirely missing from Inge Morath’s publications, appears only in a handful (eight of the twenty listed here), and then, with the notable exception of De la Perse a l’Iran, sparingly. ((The titles listed here which contain color images, and the proportion of color pages in relation to the total pages in each, are: Guerre a la Tristesse (17/148), De la Perse a l’Iran (35/69), In Russia (14/240), In the Country (8/192), Chinese Encounters (15/255), Russian Journal (21/132), Donau (30/143), and New York (19/181). This is highly unscientific, as the figures for total pages include blank, text, and picture pages, while color pages include many single-image two-page bleeds. Nevertheless, it offers a good overview of the relatively small space allotted to color in Morath’s books. De la Perse a l’Iran is the exception. One reason for this, recently discovered, is that a light leak in Morath’s camera caused significant damage to many of her black and white negatives in Iran. Also, as historian Inge Bondi has written in a letter to the author (August 3, 2009), “I dare say Delpire needed color in his books.”)) This may be partly explained by the higher cost of color printing, especially in the case of her older books. But the absence of color is even more notable in Morath’s later books than it is in the earlier. There are, for example, no color photographs in Morath’s later books of photographs of Spain with Lola Garrido, as there had been in her first with Delpire. More significantly, color is absent from Morath’s three retrospective catalogs. ((These include Inge Morath: Fotografien 1952 – 1992. Salzburg: Otto Mueller Verlag, 1992; Inge Morath: Life as a Photographer. Munich: Kehayoff Books, 1999; and Inge Morath. Pamplona: Universidad Publica de Navarra, 1998.)) Certainly this was the result of choice, whether editorial or personal, and not only of financial considerations. The relative absence of color from Morath’s key publications contradicts her practice as a photographer. Despite an apparent preference for black and white, the evidence for the importance of her color work to Morath herself is supported by both the high concentration of color images that she selected for inclusion in the preserved in her personal archive. Recognizing this contradiction as one of several conundrums complicating the study of Morath’s contribution to photography, an investigation of her color work was made a priority by the Inge Morath Foundation, which holds and cares for her estate. That investigation began in earnest in 2007, when the Inge Morath Foundation was awarded a grant by the Judith Rothschild Foundation to study, digitize, and conserve its color holdings. At the outset, these consisted of 68 binders and two standing file cabinets of largely unknown, mostly unsorted 35mm transparencies. In 2008, under the supervision of archivist Emma Winter, an additional 7,000 undocumented color originals from the 1950s and ‘60s were recovered from storage by Magnum Photos in New York and Paris. The Foundation’s investigation was greatly accelerated by the invitation of Valérie Fougeirol, director of the Magnum Photos Gallery, to exhibit a selection of the recovered work in Paris in 2009. As yet not fully inventoried, the Foundation’s current color holdings include approximately 55,000 (mostly Kodachrome) slides, and a much smaller number of 4 x 5 inch positives. It is estimated that a further 5,000 – 8,000 slides, from Morath’s later years, remain undocumented and in storage. The archival task of first recovering and then re-integrating Morath’s color with her black and white work, in order to re-construct whole stories as she shot them, has been as daunting as it was revealing. Most importantly, the investigation confirmed that Inge Morath worked with color from the very outset until the end of her career. For example, her color photographs of London, from 1953, were made during Morath’s first solo assignment as a Magnum photographer, for Holiday magazine. ((In Morath’s “story list,” the chronology of all her assignments and personal projects, “Soho and Mayfair” is listed as number three for 1953. In fact, story number one, on the worker priests of Paris, was completed before Morath joined Magnum (it was on the strength of this story that Robert Capa invited her to join as a photographer), and story two documented a road-trip across Europe with Henri Cartier-Bresson. Story three, she later noted, was of no interest to Magnum’s “big boys,” and so was assigned to her. Morath’s transparencies from her first assignment in London were recovered in the 1990s by Jimmy Fox, picture editor for Magnum’s Paris office. According to Fox, “Unlike [Ernst] Haas, who experimented with colour, many of the other [Magnum] photographers did it because it was required by the emerging markets, and Holiday and others like Look and Ladies Home Journal were gradually moving away from black and white reportage. Undoubtedly, Inge preferred to work in black and white, but she also realised that the 1950s was a period for colour. [She] was not ashamed of shooting in colour, [and] she could discuss it in detail.” Letter to the author, July 31, 2009.)) This work is unique among Morath’s pictures for its adoption of the characteristics of street photography. Unrestrained by the requirements of her assignment, these very early photographs are also unusual in the extent to which they show Morath seeking out colorful subjects in the urban landscape. Later, she would be more inclined to photograph in color only when her subject was colorful; “color has to be there” in the first place, she stated. ((Carlisle, Olga. Undated manuscript for Grosse Photographen unserer Zeit: Inge Morath (Luzern: Verlag C.J. Bucher, 1975); Archives, Inge Morath Foundation, New York, p. 18.))

At the time, Morath owned only a single camera, a second-hand Leica. “If for some reason I had to do color and black and white simultaneously,” she later wrote, “I would finish one [and] then do [the other], trying not to think of both at the same time; the thinking is so different!” ((Ibid, p. 22.)) This, presumably, was the way that Morath approached her first job where color was critical, also in 1953, on the set of John Huston’s Moulin Rouge, an assignment that she shared with Robert Capa. She wrote of the experience, “I had never been to a film studio before. An assistant gave me some advice: not to cast a shadow, not to stand on cables or get in the eye-line of the actors. Not to press the shutter when the sound is running. John Huston, who noticed my bewilderment, decided to be of some help, especially after I had confessed, to his vast amusement, that I absolutely had to bring back some good stuff but only had one roll of film. Huston promptly got me three more rolls, and occasionally waved to me when he thought I should get in there and take pictures.” ((Morath, Inge, in Berlin Lecture. Op. cit, p. 22. Morath’s friendship with Huston appears to have pre-dated her work on Moulin Rouge; it was the first of several of his films that she photographed. Her later recollection that Capa gave the Moulin Rouge assignment to her because he was unable to do it is inaccurate. A comparison of their photographs suggests that they were more likely on the film set at different times. Morath also attempted to capture the mise-en-scène of the film, photographing the set, actors preparing for their parts, and dancers relaxing between musical numbers.)) Within a few years, as she began to travel greater distances for her assignments, Morath acquired separate camera bodies for color and black and white film. ((Documents required for her working papers in Iran, in 1956, show Morath carrying three Leica M3s, a Polaroid Land Camera, and nine lenses of varying lengths and capabilities.)) Not surprisingly, Morath’s first very large bodies of color work, comprising hundreds of images, were made during extended journeys to Spain (1953 through ‘58), Iran (1956), Romania (1958), Mexico (1959 and ‘60), and Tunisia (1959 and ‘60), on assignment for various picture magazines. Morath first traveled to Spain with Cartier-Bresson in 1953, on assignment to photograph Picasso for Holiday. She returned for several further assignments; in ‘54 to photograph Lola de Vilato, Picasso’s sister, and the famed matador Antonio Ordóñez, and again in ‘55 to photograph Mercedes Formica, an attorney and activist for women’s rights. On assigning her to work there for Magnum’s Generation Women project, in 1955, Robert Capa advised Morath to “spend some time there; [Spain] will be a good country for you to work in.” ((Carlisle, Olga. Op. cit, p. 14.)) Capa was right. Spanning nearly a decade, Morath’s documentation of Spanish life and culture is an exceedingly rich body of images, and presages the intensive, long-term approach that she would adopt for her later work in Russia and China.

In seeking to understand the absence of color from her published work, it is important to acknowledge that what is true for Morath is equally true for the field of photojournalism, both within and beyond Magnum Photos. Color is the skeleton in the closet of many photojournalists of the post-war period. As Mary Panzer notes in her essay for this book, Inge Morath was one of many photographers whose early careers were shaped by the print media’s insatiable demand for images; increasingly for color images. Like many of her Magnum colleagues, Morath used her frequent magazine assignments as springboards for what she referred to as her “personal work.” After working in Spain on assignment for Holiday in 1954, for example, she published a greatly expanded selection of her Spanish photographs in Guerre a la Tristesse. Similarly, a 1956 assignment from Holiday to work in the Middle East resulted in the publication, two years later, of De la Perse a l’Iran. It is in the distinction between work for hire and personal work—and between her early career as a magazine photographer and her late career as a celebrated artist—that we may look for clues to Morath’s seemingly contradictory relationship to color photography. For, while the audience for magazine photography was vast, it was also disinterested, more concerned with a picture’s subject than with its maker. Along with this large but fickle audience, the practical limitations of magazine publishing—of control, of size, and of quality—were regarded by many ambitious photographers as obstacles to be overcome within more appropriate venues for picture viewing. Books and exhibitions, offering a greater degree of artistic control and audience commitment, were the ultimate objectives of serious photographers like Morath and her peers. And, as Panzer concludes, they were willing to conform to the prejudices of the museum and publishing communities in order to establish themselves and their work as proper subjects. Among those prejudices, a faith in the artlessness of color photography and distaste for all forms of mass production were fundamental. While cultural prejudice alone may provide a more than adequate explanation for the absence of color photojournalism from the larger history of photography, its influence on Inge Morath was complicated by a more practical, or material, problem. In both Morath’s and Magnum’s archives, black and white and color work were separately housed and differently catalogued. Black and white negatives, cut and stored as filmstrips, retain their unique numerical frame markings. These markings are used by Magnum photographers in a simple but very precise, story-based cataloging scheme: year + story number + film roll + frame number (the picture-ID “MOI-1959-01-103/36,” for example, refers to the 36th frame of 103rd film roll for the first story made in 1959 by Inge Morath). The integrity of a photographer’s black and white stories was maintained through this cataloging system, and by housing together a photographer’s negatives, contact sheets, and captions.

Color transparencies, by contrast, are cut down to individual images after processing and then enclosed in cardboard casings, which obscure the numerical markings on the film. Deprived of film’s inherent numerical sequencing, color images were catalogued by Magnum by subject rather than by story, and stored separately from a photographer’s black and white work. Catalogued differently and stored separately from their black and white counterparts, it was not at all unusual for color images to become irrevocably separated from their original stories. Color images that were separated from their stories were lost in several senses. First, as a sequence of images, showing how a photographer approached her or his subject, and second, as a body of images that, because undocumented, cannot be recalled. For, whereas the sequence of a story shot in black and white was preserved using contact sheets, no comparable method of preservation was available for transparencies. In most cases, no documentation existed that would facilitate either the restoration of a color sequence or the return of color images to a story from which they had been removed. Ultimately, Magnum’s different treatment of color and black and white pictures had the unintended effect of marginalizing the color; the black and white work retained its specificity in relation to both photographer and story, while the color was relegated to stock, the lowest echelon of the archive.

The reclassification of an image as stock is of special significance because it establishes a further degree of loss; an alienation of the picture from its source, or meaning. In 1954, for example, for one of Morath’s rare fashion assignments titled Beauty and the Beast, she photographed a group of Parisian models with large dogs. Having served their original purpose, the transparencies from the story were then filed as stock under the subject heading “Animals,” a category that has a longer and more lucrative shelf-life than fashion. In this way, in addition to being physically separated, color transparencies were also separated contextually from their stories. In general, Magnum’s system of maintaining the integrity of black and white stories was required in order to support a photographer’s artistic career through print sales, books, and exhibitions, while the relegation of color to stock supported the agency, through licensing. Over the span of her career, an estimated 15,000 of Morath’s transparencies—nearly one third of the color work known to exist—were separated from their stories and lost in this manner. Since transparencies selected for the Magnum archive were usually the best images from a story, those retained by Morath in her own archive were, in many cases, “seconds,” the remainders from a roll of film after Magnum’s and Morath’s first choice of images had been removed. It is safe to assume that, in addition to those lost in storage, many more transparencies were lost irretrievably. Jimmy Fox, who was picture editor at Magnum’s Paris office for many years and is one of the agency’s most valuable historians, has written that “[Magnum] photographers used Kodachrome at the time and, because of duping problems and urgency, in most cases the originals were sent to the clients.” Unfortunately, many of Magnum’s clients were less than reliable in returning prints and transparencies to the agency. During the 1950s and ‘60s, cultural prejudice against color outside of Magnum, and institutional practice that marginalized color within it, converged. By the late 1970s, when color photography began to find acceptance within cultural institutions, editors and curators wishing to present Morath’s color work would have found it inaccessible. Once in storage by Magnum, no finding aid existed that would indicate which photographers’ color works were filed under a particular subject heading. Without such documentation, no Magnum staff member could be expected to recall individual pictures within of such a vast, historical trove of images. ((Institutional memory within Magnum is surprisingly shallow, having been preserved primarily by three of its longest serving staff members, Inge Bondi, Jimmy Fox, and John Morris, all of whom have contributed to this book by sharing their memories of the agency and of Inge Morath’s role within it.)) Indeed, considering the significant number of her transparencies that had disappeared, it is not unreasonable to conclude that Morath herself might have forgotten about them, or—more likely—believed them lost. In the 1980s, Inge Morath entered her late period and, urged on by the editors and curators working with her, began to revisit her early stories. Even for her, it was no longer an easy task to retrieve her missing transparencies from Magnum’s archives in New York and Paris. Moreover, having followed Magnum’s cataloging system in her personal archive, Morath would have found that the task of reintegrating color with black and white—to recreate her early stories story as they had been shot—was, simply, no longer possible. In the end, since the finest color pictures were in most cases the ones gone missing, in her late career revisions and her retrospective catalogs Morath wisely preferred to showcase her best black and white work, rather than merge it with the second-tier color images that she had retained in her archive. In spite of the lopsided historical record that resulted from this preference, for Morath to choose otherwise would have been professionally untenable.

Ultimately, the conundrum of Morath’s color photography is one that cannot be perfectly resolved. Too many images, and too much information relating to them, are still missing to close the investigation of this work. Inge Morath: First Color therefore represents both an initial assessment of Morath’s color photography within a limited timeframe, and an attempt to answer the first questions raised by the recovery of her work from that period. To reiterate, in seeking to understand Morath’s relationship to color it is important to acknowledge that what was true for her individually was also true for photojournalists collectively. As Mary Panzer notes, in recovering Morath’s color and attempting to right the lopsided historical record of her work, we also throw open the door to the restoration of color photojournalism to the larger history of photography, from which it remains conspicuously absent. Here, we may establish beyond question the importance of color within Inge Morath’s career. Her role as a color photographer within the larger field of photojournalism must be assessed in relation to an expanded photographic history—one that includes color and magazine photography—which remains largely unwritten.

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.