Ann Arbor Weather:
Sunday January 19, 2020
Follow us: facebook twitter RSS feed

Morath and Miller

China, 1978

by Laura Bien

From the January, 2008 issue

Mao Zedong's lumpily stuffed white horse in Yanan's Revolutionary Museum, Zhou Enlai's black crank telephone, and a woman worker's spartan concrete apartment-cell next to a socialist "Workshop for Women over 45" are among the images scheduled to appear in an UMMA Off/Site exhibit of Inge Morath's photographs. The works chronicle the trip she and her husband, playwright Arthur Miller, took in 1978 to a China on the cusp of modernization.

Images showing premodern traditions include one of a tidy array of black pottery jars containing human "night soil" ready for transport downriver from the city of Guilin. In the background, tall, humped mountains, like those seen in traditional Chinese paintings, evoke the country's distant past. In other Guilin images, chickens scamper across watery mud near a low, small house, and Chinese characters cover a riverside rock grotto's walls.

The photos are interspersed with enlargements of Miller and Morath's trip diary entries. Miller writes of Guilin:



The fisherman on his lovely raft who poles himself along will doubtless welcome the outboard motor, even if it leaves a pencil-thin trail of spilled oil in the water, and the squatting women beating their wash on the banks can hardly be blamed for staring at magazine pictures of washing machines, as they must have done by now. I stare at them in their motorless silence along their crystal river and hope that they manage better than we have.



In contrast to these timeless rural images, a photo of two workers in Beijing's "fine arts factory" shows old culture produced by new methods. A young girl bends over a chunk of rock she is carving with a delicate electric drill. The drill bit, cooled by a steady stream of water, creates what a Morath journal entry calls "delicate chains of jade, lacelike bottles, and pendants of miniature coral trees."

Modern-day China's urban car traffic and pollution are evoked by their absence in a photo (above) of a bicycle-filled street

...continued below...


in Bei-

jing. Depicting workers on their way to jobs at 6:30 a.m., the photo shows slanting sunlight bathing the cyclists in a soft, almost otherworldly glow suggesting peace and calm. One also senses the photographer's strong affection for this scene she encountered on her and her husband's early-morning walks in Beijing, and her painstaking effort to gracefully frame and capture the essence of the bicyclists.

It's the favorite photo of exhibit curator Katherine Derosier, who calls it "the quintessential snapshot of China and its bicycle culture. . . . In this image I think you can see [Morath's] connection to this culture . . . China through her eyes."

The exhibition is planned for January 12 through March 23.

[Review published January 2008]     (end of article)

 

 
Bookmark and Share
Print Comment E-mail

You might also like:

Networking & Career Development
Epic Change
St. Joe's staffers await their new electronic health records system with anticipation and dread.
Cynthia Furlong Reynolds
Summertime
"Hey, grandpa! How did you write a book 500 pages long?"
James Leonard
A New Old Navy
The Gap grows its discount brand.
Sabine Bickford
As Local As It Gets
Mike Vestergaard opens a farm store.
Sabine Bickford
The Cultivation Station Closes
The hydroponics and gardening store withdraws from Ann Arbor.
Sabine Bickford
School Security
The school improvement millage will speed work on building safety.
Chuck Warpehoski
Disasters
Safety Services
Passport to Adventure
Data mining at Briarwood
John Hilton
One of the finest university art museums in the country, UMMA holds collections representing 150 yea
Mohler Prize Lecture
A visitor's guide to Ann Arbor