A Llama in Times Square (1957)
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Like many of the iconic images for which she is recognized, Inge Morath’s A Llama in Times Square originated in a magazine assignment. In its December 2, 1957 issue, LIFE magazine published a one-page story, in its humorous Animals section, entitled High-paid llama in big city. The story was about a menagerie of television animals—including, in addition to the llama, large and small dogs, cats, birds, a pig, a kangaroo, and a miniature bull—living at home with their trainers in a Manhattan brownstone.
The story in LIFE featured three photographs by Morath, including a cropped close-up of Linda the Llama. Curiously, the caption accompanying the closeup describes the llama as ogling from the window of a taxi on her way to make a television appearance. In fact, she was in the back seat of her trainer’s car, and, as Morath explains, on her way home from the studio when the picture was taken. Morath’s full caption reads, “Linda, the Lama (sic) rides home via Broadway. She is just coming home from a television show in New York’s A.B.C. studios and now takes a relaxed and long-necked look at the lights of one of the world’s most famous streets.” In Morath’s work chronology, her contact sheets for the story are marked “57-1,” indicating that this was her first assignment in the year 1957. On the back of a vintage work print of the iconic picture, Morath has inscribed the caption, “57-1.That’s when that was—driving around with Linda the Llama.”
Nevertheless, a selection of snapshots taken by an unknown photographer, showing Morath posing with the llama and her trainers and photographing them on a New York City street, are all dated 1956 in Morath’s hand. These indicate that she had spent a great deal of time getting to know her subjects, and may even have been responsible for “pitching” the story to LIFE well in advance of the time it was published. Such was Morath’s typical working method. Since its original publication in LIFE, A Llama in Times Square has been exhibited and republished extensively, taking on a life of its own. The photograph is undoubtedly the most recognizable and beloved of Inge Morath’s iconic images, having been seen everywhere from classrooms and calendars to museum walls and even Oprah Winfrey’s O magazine. Viewed alone, it appears to have been a perfect example of being in the right place at just the right moment. In fact, as Morath’s contact sheets show, it was the result of considerable work and forethought. An appearance of spontaneity, masking the reality of careful planning, is one of the prime characteristics of Morath’s work as photojournalist, and shows the degree of comfort that she was able to establish with her subjects while working on their stories.
Text by John Jacob, Writer and Curator
(Original text appears in Magnum Contact Sheets)