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Filmstill - THE MISFITS, Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift, 1961
Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift in 'The Misfits'Image: picture-alliance/Everett Colle

From llamas to Marilyn Monroe: Inge Morath's iconic works

Alexander Keßel als
April 25, 2018

Inge Morath's eye for detail and her meticulous manner of working led the Austrian journalist to join the famous Paris-based Magnum photography agency. A show devoted to her work opens in Berlin.


"She made poetry of people and their places," American writer Arthur Miller wrote about his wife Inge Morath's work following her death in 2002. Following World War II, Austrian Morath traveled the world for her work. Her photographic reportages of the time revealed parts of the world that had remained largely hidden: countries like China, Iran and South Africa.

The daughter of two academics learned eight different languages in order to better capture the essence of the people she was photographing. "She was very good at that," said chief curator Elisabeth Moortgat of the Verborgenes Museum (Hidden Museum) in Berlin, which is showing selected works by Morath from April 26 through August 26. The works are part of the collection of the Salzburg Galerie Fotohof, with which Morath collaborated to publish various books.

Read more: 'Ethical lapse': Photoshop scandal catches up with iconic photojournalist Steve McCurry

Austrian photographer Inge Morath
Austrian photographer Inge Morath Image: picture-alliance/IMAGNO/D. Sattmann

Marilyn Monroe's tired side

The focal point of the exhibition is the photojournalist's work from the 1950s into the 70s. Several portraits of famous artists such as sculptor Louise Bourgeois and director and writer André Malraux are also on show.

During her life, Morath enjoyed entrée to a crowd of intellectuals through her marriage to Arthur Miller. Morath met him in 1960 on the film set of the drama "The Misfits," in which Marilyn Monroe played the leading role. At the time, the film goddess was married to Miller. Morath managed to impressively capture a yet unseen side of Monroe, exposing her vulnerability. The actress' life would end tragically a couple of years later.

Read more: The photographer behind Marilyn Monroe's most iconic photo

Meticulousness with composition 

"One eye on the motif, the other on the soul" is the way the Austrian described her photographic approach.

Morath would observe, become familiar with other cultures, but rarely pulled out her camera right away. Instead, she took her time to patiently, tenderly approach her subjects and the places they lived. She spent five years learning Mandarin, for instance, before traveling to China with Arthur Miller.

Read more: Magnum Photos publishes guide on Europe for refugees, migrants

The second woman at Magnum

The turning point in Morath's career was meeting war photographer Robert Capa in 1949. At the time, then 26-year-old Morath had not yet mastered the use of the camera, but her written reportages as a journalist were what convinced the co-founder of the Magnum agency, which had been established in Paris two years previously. Morath was initially hired as an editor, but she quickly cultivated her photographic talent and furthered her training with Simon Guttmann, managing director of various photo agencies.

Read more: 80 years of war photography with Robert Capa and Gerda Taro

Inge Morath's studio (Kurt Kaindl)
The exhibition also depicts Morath's studioImage: Kurt Kaindl

Upon completion of her photographic training, she was accepted as a full-fledged member of Magnum in 1955, the second woman to do so after Eve Arnold.

Commissions in the following years took her across Europe, Africa and the Middle East. During all of her travels, she stayed longer at the commissioned locations than necessary to get a feel for the people and places. It was this meticulousness and her desire not to extract her photographic motifs and subjects from their surroundings that defined Inge Morath's reputation as an outstanding artist.

The exhibition at Das Verborgene Museum runs from April 26 – August 26, 2018.

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