Linda Gordon, "Inge Morath - An Illustrated Biography"

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Linda Gordon, "Inge Morath - An Illustrated Biography"
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Author:  James Lehrer [ Fri Oct 12, 2018 8:08 pm ]
Post subject:  Linda Gordon, "Inge Morath - An Illustrated Biography"

Linda Gordon is University Professor in Humanities and History at New York University. Her biography of photojournalist Inge Morath just came out, and I was the first kid on the block to get a copy. It's an excellent book about one of the 20th century's most cultured and articulate photojournalists. Morath lived a long, fascinating life, overcoming many obstacles to become one of the first female members of Magnum photo agency. Ithe found the details of the prejudices she faced within the male-dominated organization (and while photographing in certain male-dominated regions) particularly eye-opening. I have been reading about Magnum's organization, work and influence for years, and the books I have read generally treated the macho-world-explorer image of the Magnum photographer as a image to be cultivated and preserved (books by Susan Meiselas and Mary Ellen Mark notably excepted). If I were more enlightened in feminist matters I would not have found novel Professor Gordon's observation that much of Morath's treatment in matters of training, membership, and work assignments at Magnum were less benignly paternalistic than outright exploitative.
Professor Gordon doesn't sledgehammer the feminist points - she let's the facts speak for themselves. Here and there she asks a pertinent question, as when writing about Magnum-founder Robert Capa's assignment of Morath to travel, as an assistant and student, on several assignments with Henri Cartier-Bresson:
Capa's decision to provide Morath with such a lengthy internship was simultaneously generous and also, possibly, sexist. None of the men were treated this way. Was admission to Magnum thus not only probationary but "premature," requiring more training to get her to the right level? Or did Capa hesitate to send her out alone? (That would have been ludicrous given her previous experiences [on her own and suffering privations in the latter part of World War II]. Whatever the reasons, Magnum was still unaccustomed to the woman photographer."

The reproductions of Morath's black and white and color work are excellent, and amply represent each stage of her career and artistic development. Especially notable is Professor Gordon's assessment of the factors contributing to Morath's approach to her photographic subjects. Extensive preparatory research, her attractive, cultured and non-threatening persona, her deep curiosity about the world and it's peoples, her energy, and her strength of will all made her an ideal participant in photojournalism's golden age and thereafter.
Inge Morath - An Illustrated Biography by Linda Gordon is published by Prestel, copyright 2018 by the Magnum Foundation. The book is in hardcover, 191 pages, including a suggested reading list, chronology, and index.

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