In the frame

INGE MORATl-I has seen the world and photographed it. Along with four other Magnum women, her work is on show at Edinburgh's National Portrait Gallery.

Words: Susanna Beaumont

In 1951 while in Venice, the journalist Inge Morath rang Magnum photographer Robert Capa. It was raining and Morath thought the city looked so beautiful that Capa should send a photographer to record the scene. His response was to the point. ‘He said, “You are an idiot why don’t you take a photograph yourself?”,’ recalls Morath. ‘I didn’t quite know how to load the film, but I took a photograph. I then realised that this was what I wanted to do; to give form to what I saw, to communicate.’

Over 40 years on, Inge Morath is one of the world’s most celebrated photographers. A member of the famed photography agency Magnum since 1953, Morath has photographed many of the century’s most famous faces Picasso, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and taken some of the most memorable photographs of New York. And in Magna Brava, the first ever exhibition to celebrate Magnum’s women photographers, Morath along with Eve Arnold, Martine Franck, Susan Meiselas and Marilyn Silverstone, who died earlier this year are showing over 180 photographs at Edinburgh’s National Portrait Gallery.

For many years, Magnum was seen as a bastion of maleness. Founded in 1947 by Capa, I-Ienri Cartier- Bresson and others, it not only promoted standards in photography but introduced photo-journalism, sending photographers to the world’s most troubled territories and war zones. Morath, however, had no truck with any notion of female exclusion zones.

‘1 was so single-minded and determined to be a photographer,’ she says. ‘It was very male-dominated, but I had more trouble not from the Magnum guys, but with people who said, “Why don’t you photograph like a woman?” Which I always thought was a stupid thing to say. Either a photograph is good or it is not.’

This determination no doubt was formed in her youth. Born in Austria in 1923, Morath spent her teenage years in Berlin, escaping the war-tom, Nazi-

'The face is a fascinating landscape.’ Inge Morath

Back-seat ride: Inge Morath's travelling llama in Times Square, New York

run city when the Russians invaded. She fled to Salzburg alone, a refugee. This intimate encounter with war and its attendant terror has led to her refusal to photograph subsequent conflicts. Today, Morath lives in Connecticut with the writer Arthur Miller, whom she married in 1962.

She is a keen observer and recorder of seemingly surreal scenes found in the everyday urban landscape a llama with its head protruding out of a car window in New York’s Times Square and a precarious-looking line-up of window-cleaners tackling a high-rise are two of her memorable photographssl-Iowever, she particularly favours portraiture.

‘The face is a fascinating landscape,’ she argues. ‘I don’t think you can reveal everything about a person in a portrait, but I take care to know as much as I can about the person I am photographing to ensure that something of the person is revealed.’

The person Morath names as an especially interesting subject, is French-born, New York-based artist, Louise Bourgeois. Photographing Bourgeois since 1972, Morath simply says she is intriguing.

Magna Brava is at the National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, Fri 5 Nov-Sun 30 Jan.

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Whisperings from the gallery

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4-18 Nov 1999 THE “8181