Inge Morath, the daughter of a scientist, was born in Austria on 27th May 1923. The family moved to Nazi Germany and as a teenager she was sent to the force labour camp at Tempelhof for refusing to join the Hitler Youth.
Morath graduated from Berlin University in 1944. After the Second World War she worked as an interpreter for the United States Information Service before joining the RWR radio network. Morath also contributed articles to the literary magazine Der Optimist.
In 1950 Morath moved to France where she worked with the Austrian photographers Ernst Haas and Erich Lessing. This involved writing text captions for the two photographers. The following year she found work as a photojournalist with Picture Post, a magazine based in London.
Morath's first book was, Fiesta In Pamplona
(1954). After the publication of an photo essay on French worker priests by Morath in 1955 Robert Capa
invited her to join the Magnum Photos
agency. Other books by Morath included Venice Observed
(1956), Bring Forth The Children
(1961) and From Persia to Iran
Morath married Arthur Miller in 1962 and together they published the book In Russia
(1969). This was followed by My Sister Life
(1973) with poems by Boris Pasternak, In the Country
(1977), Chinese Encounters
(1979), Salesman in Beijing
(1987), Shaking the Dust of Ages
(1998), an autobiography, Life As A Photographer
(2000) and Border Spaces; Last Journey
Inge Morath died of lymphatic cancer on 30th January 2002.
Source: Spartacus Educational
Morath's achievements during her first decade of work as a photographer are significant. Along with Eve Arnold, she was among the first women members of Magnum Photos
, which remains to this day a predominantly male organization. Many critics have written of the playful surrealism that characterizes Morath's work from this period. Morath attributed this to the long conversations she had with Cartier-Bresson
during their travels in Europe and the United States. Morath's work was motivated by a fundamental humanism, shaped as much by her experience of war as by its lingering shadow over post-war Europe. In Morath's mature work, she documents the endurance of the human spirit under situations of extreme duress, as well as its manifestations of ecstasy and joy.
After relocating to the United States, during the 1960s and 1970s Morath worked closer to home, raising a family with Miller and working with him on several projects. Their first collaboration was the book In Russia
(1969), which, together with Chinese Encounters
(1979), described their travels and meetings in the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China. In the Country
, published in 1977, was an intimate look at their immediate surroundings. For both Miller, who had lived much of his life in New York City, and Morath, who had come to the US from Europe, the Connecticut countryside offered a fresh encounter with America.
Reflecting on the importance of Morath's linguistic gifts, Miller wrote that "travel with her was a privilege because [alone] I would never been able to penetrate that way."
In their travels Morath translated for Miller, while his literary work was the entrée for Morath to encounter an international artistic elite. The Austrian photographer Kurt Kaindl
, her long-time colleague, noted that "their cooperation develop[ed] without outward pressure and is solely motivated by their common interest in the people and the respective cultural sphere, a situation that corresponds to Inge Morath's working style, since she generally feels inhibited by assignments."
Morath sought out, befriended, and photographed artists and writers. During the 1950s she photographed artists for Robert Delpire
's magazine L'Oeil
, including Jean Arp
and Alberto Giacometti
. 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 which he had fashioned from a paper bag. Over a period of several years, they collaborated on a series of portraits, inviting individuals and groups of people to pose for Morath wearing Steinberg's masks. Another long-term project was Morath's documentation of many of the most important productions of Arthur Miller's plays.
Some of Morath's signal achievements are in portraiture, including posed images of celebrities as well as fleeting images of anonymous passersby. Her pictures of Boris Pasternak
's home, Pushkin
's library, Chekhov
's house, Mao Zedong
's bedroom, as well as artists' studios and cemetery memorials, are permeated with the spirit of invisible people still present. The writer Philip Roth
, whom Morath photographed in 1965, described her as "the most engaging, sprightly, seemingly harmless voyeur I know. If you're one of her subjects, you hardly know your guard is down and your secret recorded until it's too late. She is a tender intruder with an invisible camera."
As the scope of her projects grew, Morath prepared extensively by studying the language, art, and literature of a country to encounter its culture fully. Although photography was the primary means through which Morath found expression, it was but one of her skills. In addition to the many languages in which she was fluent, Morath was also a prolific diary and letter-writer; her dual gift for words and pictures made her unusual among her colleagues. Morath wrote extensively, and often amusingly, about her photographic subjects. Although she rarely published these texts during her lifetime, posthumous publications have focused upon this aspect of her work. They have brought together her photographs with journal writings, caption notes, and other archival materials relating to her various projects.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Morath continued to pursue both assignments and independent projects. The film Copyright by Inge Morath
was made by German filmmaker Sabine Eckhard
in 1992, and was one of several films selected for a presentation of Magnum Films at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2007. Eckhard filmed Morath at home and in her studio, and in New York and Paris with her colleagues, including Cartier-Bresson
, Elliott Erwitt
and others. In 2002, working with film director Regina Strassegger
, Morath fulfilled a long-held wish to revisit the lands of her ancestors, along the borderlands of Styria and Slovenia. This mountainous region, once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, had become the faultline between two conflicting ideologies after World War II and until 1991, when attempts at rapprochement led to conflict on both sides of the border. The book Last Journey
(2002), and Strasseger's film Grenz Räume
(Border Space, 2002), document Morath's visits to her homeland during the final years of her life.