Inge Morath: On Style, published recently by Abrams, makes the case that Inge Morath, the celebrated Magnum photojournalist, was a sort of accidental fashion photographer, despite the fact that almost none of her assignments could really be called fashion shoots. She did, though, move in undeniably stylish circles, and led a thoroughly glamorous life, especially during the early years of her career, which are the focus of the book. After working as a writer, editor and translator in Austria after the Second World War, she joined Magnum in 1955, and shot assignments around the world for publications including Holiday, Paris Match and Vogue. She spoke eight languages, and had published books of her photographs of Spain, Italy and Iran by the time she met playwright Arthur Miller on a film set, and married him after his split from Marilyn Monroe. Despite her cosmopolitan life, Morath’s pictures were more often concerned with showing the work and the grit that go into the production of fashion, rather than celebrating the final product.
The seed for Inge Morath: On Style was planted in 2010, when Bruce Gilden, researching a book of fashion work by Magnum photographers, “discovered that Inge Morath had none,” writes John P. Jacob in an afterword. The revelation prompted a five-year search of Morath’s archive, “looking for photographs that captured style—whether it be in a fashion studio, on a film set, in the street or at a ball.” One of the assignments the search turned up was “American Girls in Paris,” a 1954 story in which young women in belted skirts explore the city, smoking in cafes or looking suspiciously at a topless sculpture in the Louvre. In the image “‘Beauty and the Beast’ Fashion Contest,” from the same year, Morath pulls back to show not only models posing with Great Danes and Shetland ponies, but also cages where these animals were kept. She photographed profiles of aspiring starlets and stories about parties such as a debutante ball, or the Bal d’Hiver, a sparkling charity event, and portraits of artists and designers, including the reclusive Cristobal Balenciaga, whom Morath photographed at home. (She also wore his designs. Morath met Balenciaga at a party early in her career. She once told an interviewer, “I think he liked me because I was doing this dicey stuff, and he gave me a couple of suits, with pockets everywhere for cameras and film.”)
Despite her proximity to fashion, Morath doesn’t seem to have been seduced by it. Instead, writes Justine Picardie in the introduction, her images “explore the relationship between polished veneers and what lies beneath; between darkness and light; freedom and confinement; convention and rebellion.” —Rebecca Robertson