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Tehran, 1956

Pahlevani exercise in a zoorkhaneh, a domed structure used for practice, in Tehran, Iran, in 1956. (© Inge Morath/Magnum Photos from the book Inge Morath: An Illustrated Biography by Linda Gordon, published by Prestel)

Inge Morath, pioneering documentary photographer

 “I am a traveler with a camera through whose viewfinder I have been looking at the world and the faces of its people for more than forty years.” — Inge Morath

Austrian-born American photographer Inge Morath survived adolescence in Nazi Germany and the trauma of barely surviving World War II, using her camera as a way to enter worlds that were closed to most women. One of the first women to join Magnum Photos in 1953, she worked closely with Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Morath traveled the globe, often alone, quietly but firmly defying the conventions for what was appropriate for women at the time. Her photographs show her cosmopolitanism, love of literature and fluency in many languages. Morath’s work is unified by an intimacy and comfort with her subjects. Her respect for the various cultures she documented made her what biographer Linda Gordon calls a “visual ethnographer.” Truly a citizen of the world, she had a rare ability to see, simultaneously, the universal and the personal.

Morath was a superb portraitist, and was particularly drawn to artist subjects — such as painter Saul Steinberg, sculptor Louise Bourgeois and writer Boris Pasternak. She worked mainly using black-and-white film but also used color film exquisitely, even early in her career. Through a Magnum assignment to document Marilyn Monroe and “The Misfits” film set, she met famous playwright Arthur Miller, and their subsequent marriage lasted for forty years. Speaking of his wife, Miller said, “She made poetry out of people and their places over half a century.”

The first full-length biography about her, Inge Morath: An Illustrated Biography by Linda Gordon, is available now. (Prestel/Magnum Foundation).

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