• Mark Cator

Wright Morris, "the essence of the visible".

“This recombining of the verbal and the visual, full of my own kind of unpeopled portraits, sought to salvage what I considered threatened, and to hold fast to what was vanishing.” - Wright Morris

Wright Morris [1910-1998], photographed everyday things that characterised rural and small-town life in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. In doing so, he captured the slowly disappearing way of life of his native state Nebraska and wherever else his wanderings of the US countryside took him. He adopted an experimental approach to photography, seeking very early to“capture the essence of what is visible”. There's an understatement about his photographs. It is what it is but that "essence" is powerfully evoked with minimal sentiment and a profound observation of the ordinary.

It is important to consider Morris’s images in relation to his fiction writing, his main vocation. He combined his photographs with semi-autobiographical text in what he dubbed ‘photo-text’ books, notably The Inhabitants (1946), The Home Place (1948) and God’s Country and My People (1968). These publications pioneered the then-unconventional combination of photography and text in a single novel, merging documentary photography with autobiography and fiction.

After his father’s death in 1941, Morris returned to Nebraska with his wife to visit his uncle’s farm. He found the place in disarray: ‘Doors tilted in shed doorways, fences were down, the dead trees of an orchard stood in weeds near the house, every visible object, wagon, implement and structure seemed to be at the end of a losing battle. The peeled branches of long dead trees arched over the house. Never before had I set eyes on such a mockery of my remembrance’. The Home Place was the result of his 'homecoming'.


Wright Morris, 1947, Norfolk, Nebraska, from The Home Place

Wright Morris, 1947, Model T Steering Wheel, from The Home Place

Wright Morris, 1947, Norfolk, Nebraska, from The Home Place

Wright Morris, 1947, Uncle Harry Entering Barn, Norfolk, Nebraska, from The Home page


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