In honor of National Women’s History Month, we are taking time each Wednesday to focus on women artists. One of the photographers featured in our current temporary exhibition, The Open Road, is Austrian photographer Inge Morath.
“This is the story of my first trip across the United States. It is not really a story, they are bits of notes written each night at a table in a motel room that always was a different place and always looked the same.”
In photographer Inge Morath’s opening lines of her diary—which became The Road to Reno—she summarizes her journey from New York City to Reno, Nevada, as a stranger in a country she could never quite understand. Born in Austria in 1923, Morath was tasked by Magnum Photos with documenting the making of the Misfits, filmed outside Reno in the summer of 1960. With fellow European-born photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, she set out from New York via car to document the American landscape.
Throughout the journey, Morath carried a portable typewriter as well as her camera. Her pictures accompanied amusing written narratives of her experiences. In a mixture of musings that are tender, humorous, satirical, judgmental, and quizzical at the same time, she marks what could be anywhere in the US—another motel with another desk and chair, cafés with the same hamburgers, and America’s love of roadside consumerism.
Unlike other photography projects on the road which sometimes take years to complete, Morath’s The Road to Reno is a personal journey complete in 18 days, from its start in New York to its finish outside of Reno at the arrival on the Misfits set. This road trip’s photographs and diary were kept private for many years, known only by those closest to Morath—perhaps because this series unknowingly documented Morath’s personal encounter with her future. During her time documented by this journal, Morath met her future husband, playwright Arthur Miller, and experienced her first prolonged encounter with the country that would become her adoptive homeland. The book was not published until 2006.
The following photographs and excerpts from The Road to Reno―while not part of the Open Road exhibition―are beautiful examples that celebrate the brave, honest photographer who created her own unique and personal documentation across America.
“Abraham Lincoln sits alone in a library. . . Also opposite the waxen assembly is part of the old battlefield of the Civil War, full of statues and of visitors who read inscriptions and pose in front of the monuments. It is all quite moving. The canons pointing towards the fast cars gliding down the roads, each one has a little pile of cannonballs next to it as if still on duty.”
July 6 – 7:
“The night we stayed in Oak Ridge. The name of the place that became famous because here the first atom bomb has been built – at least the first one that has been dropped. . . . On my only morning in Oak Ridge, I go to the Atomic Museum. . . we press buttons and make beautifully planned exhibits light up, rotate, even explode a little, and a tiny tortoise that has had a radioactive injection makes a Geiger counter needle move for us. . . . How much further am I behind my century than the young man with the crewcut who explains all this to us?”
“Wetumka. We came upon it between Fort Smith and Oklahoma and only because we had taken a small road parallel to the big highway. . . . The road is very wide, a few cars are parked at angles their noses pointing toward the pavement. There is a little arcade and on one corner a few men in Texan hats sit and talk. There are signposts that say Drugs and Bank and other things. But as we walk down the main street of Wetumka and look into the windows of these shops they are empty. . . . In between these ruins two or three shops still exist, function, look efficient with pretty girls serving. There is also a cinema, but the glass panel that announces the newest attractions has a hole. When did Wetumka start to fall to pieces? Why?
“Practically nothing announces the approach of one of the most extraordinary places I was to see on this trip, grown out of the barbaric desires to gamble and gain and forget, Las Vegas suddenly received you, wearing stage makeup in full daylight. . . . The magnificent setting of this highly perishable world of a few boulevards, expensive hotels, motels, slot machines, chemin de Fer tables and chorus girls is the desert. Las Vegas spills you out into it again just a few minutes after you have left its main boulevard and one wonders how long it would take this sand to cover it all up, this heat to dry it all out.”
Photographing the Misfits:
“Dancing scene between Roslyn (Marilyn Monroe) and Guido (Eli Wallach). Both these actors are excellent dancers and love dancing together. During the workout of the scene, they went on and on, trying out and finding new steps, new positions, and naturally, new gags.”