In 1960, Arthur Miller, at the urging of producer Frank Taylor, contracted with Magnum to make some publicity shots during the filming of The Misfits. Inge Morath was one of the nine photographers invited, and she took the opportunity to take a long road trip with her colleague Henri Cartier Bresson and her typewriter. The duo rented a car and took a slow, 18 day drive from New York, through Gettysburg, Memphis, and Albuquerque, to Reno. Morath logged her experiences on her typewriter in motel rooms every night, wrote a lengthy manuscript, made selections, and then shoved everything in a file.
Her family and friends knew the story, saw the photographs, but The Road to Reno presented her photographs and writing from the trip and around set of The Misfits for the first time.
You can sorta trace their route through Morath’s journal entries and captions, which appear more or less in the order they were taken, as far as I can tell. The story starts in NY, crossing the bridge into NJ, and proceeds, with pictures and entries from PA, WV, VA, NC, TN, AR, OK, NM, AZ, and into NV. It seems that they mostly kept off of the larger roads.
Today there was a country road in the morning. Sometimes the landscape was quite pretty, green, sometimes it grew shabby like uncombed hair. Fort Smith was a long street, some arcades along it with shops underneath…. Then again, a long quiet road. It runs parallel to the big one and it is peaceful, once there is even a meadow full of yellow flowers. … Then the cars thicken around us – a superhighway mysteriously swings out and back and roundabout and then there is Oklahoma.Morath, Inge. The Road to Reno. Steidl, Gottingen, Germany. 2006. p. 45
My kind of road trip.
And my kind of writing, too. Morath’s English was her third or fourth language (of 7 or 8 total), but the foreign inflection and word usage is less than might be imagined, and overall her writing really adds life and space to her brilliant photographs.
In her introduction to the book, Lucy Raven writes “Cartier-Bresson is well known for his remarkable ability to capture ‘the decisive moment’, while Morath records the attenuation of the instant.”* (My emphasis) This ongoing moment, this persistence of time and space, that pervades her photographs is only extended and broadened by the writing, and I’m half convinced that a trip from Memphis to Oklahoma, on the smaller state roads, through Fort Smith and Wetumka would look largely unchanged today, in 2021, as it did when she and HCB rolled through.
While Cartier-Bresson appears in a couple of photographs (and perhaps took one, of Morath riding a bucking horse), he somehow disappears in Nevada. For the first part of the journey, it’s all “we” and “us,” but suddenly, with a flat tire outside of Las Vegas, it’s an “I” that changes the tire and limps from town to town looking for someone to patch the tire, and an “I” that visits the ghost town of Goldfield, NV. It’s almost as if HCB disappeared into a Las Vegas casino and never returned, though he reappears in Reno: a picture shows him and Eli Walach with cameras to their eyes, presumably taking pictures of Morath as she takes theirs; his camera and Morath’s, being carried away by Montgomery Clift.
Once in Reno, Morath begins her work on The Misfits, and the book shows a few behind the scenes pictures of John Huston and Arthur Miller, portraits of the male stars (Montgomery Clift, Eli Walach, Clark Gable), and several really interesting and different pictures of Marilyn Monroe, even capturing something of the actual person behind the icon in a few shots. There are also some scans of the whole sequence, the 6 or 8 or 12 shots that Morath took around one scene: Monroe dancing around in her hotel room as she tries to straighten out a dress; Monroe during a rehearsal of Roslyn’s dance in Guido’s garden; Monroe and Walach rehearsing their dancing scene; Monroe “joyfully” leaving Guido’s house with Clark Gable looking on. It’s only in these sequences that the printing and materials fall down a bit: the images are dark, and on the off white, lightly textured, no-gloss paper, they seem somewhat blurry and indistinct.
Following the publicity shots, there’s a short statement from Arthur Miller, who Morath married in 1962, followed by scans of her typewritten and scribbled handwriting annotated draft of the text. It’s largely the same as what appears throughout the book, though there were some editorial changes and slight smoothing of the language. I found it a bit hard to follow Morath’s annotations and the printing here fails a bit again: the typed text looks slightly soft on the eggshell finish paper, probably owing to the mid-2000s scan of the photocopied material, though not at all helped by the paper finish. This chunk of the book, perhaps a quarter of it, is of less interest to me and could’ve been left out, and, as always, your mileage may vary.
It’s not often that I rate the design of a Steidl photobook as low as I have here, and, really, it’s probably better than I let on. The majority of the book is really well done, as is the Steidl standard, and it’s only the little annoyances that impacted it. And, really, The Road to Reno is worth every bit of 4 stars.
The Road to Reno came out posthumously, in 2006, and was the first publication from The Inge Morath Foundation. Copies are available all over, mostly used, for a well-worth-it price. I appreciate both her photography and her writing: it’s all straight ahead, capturing the (sur)realism of the country, and seems as alive and vibrant today as it was back then. Good stuff.
*Raven, Lucy. “Road to Reno,” in Inge Morath The Road to Reno. Steidl, 2009. p. 7