In Inge Morath’s Photographs, Womanhood Is Beautiful And Urgent

When words failed her, Inge Morath turned to photography.

Born in Austria in 1923, she studied German in Berlin, eventually working as a translator and journalist there early in her career. Her schooling during World War II introduced her to modern art, but, under the Reich she felt compelled to keep her interest in it hidden.

When she moved to Paris to work for Magnum Photos as an editor — not a photojournalist — she found that her command of German was a disadvantage for her socially and professionally. 

On her site, she’s quoted as saying, “After the war I had often suffered from the fact that my native language, German, was for most of the world the language of the enemy, and although I was able to write stories in English or French it did not touch the roots. So turning to the image felt both like a relief and an inner necessity.” 

And we should be thankful that she did. She was among the first women members of Magnum. Even today, gender parity in the field hasn’t been achieved, so this accomplishment is worth reflecting on.

But her work, regardless of her gender, stands alone as lively, fun, and contemplative all at once. Slowly, she transitioned from her editorial role into taking on photography assignments ― most of which, at the beginning, involved taking portraits of women living in London. She later worked as a photographer on several film sets, including “The Misfits,” starring Marilyn Monroe.

In the below images ― from the book Inge Morath: On Style ― Morath’s sense of humor and flair for capturing quiet, peculiar moments are on display. A woman peers into a broken storefront window; rows of women methodically apply face masks in a beauty class in New York.

In her photos, the story of womanhood becomes beautiful, and urgent.

All photos © The Inge Morath Foundation/Magnum Photos.

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