All posts by IM Foundation

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. Continue reading Azar Nafisi: The Mystery in Her Own Eyes

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.)) Continue reading Inge Morath, Iran

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. Continue reading Inge Morath & Arthur Miller in China