Biography | Bibliography
Morris, a writer and photographer, was born in Central City, Nebraska in 1910. Morris’ fiction was inspired by his youthful memories, and his pictures portray what he saw at the time of their creation. Inspired by Nebraska and the Midwest, the subject matter of Morris’ images is composed of the everyday: that which is used, broken-down, or abandoned, and generally the objects and places that show the wear and tear of daily life. His writing and pictures came together in what he called “photo-texts,” the most notable being The Inhabitants (1946), The Home Place (1948), and God’s Country and My People (1968) (Trachtenberg, 9-11).
Morris’ mother died within a week after his birth. He and his father moved around Nebraska towns, Omaha, and Chicago. This unfortunate start to life and subsequent non-coherent existence may have been why, in the early 1930s, Morris suddenly became “obsessed” with recovering his boyhood. A pervasive sense of loss drove his creativity, which he channeled into making words and images. For Morris, both disciplines were very much interconnected, where one enhanced his understanding of the other (Ibid., 14-15).
He photographed consistently wherever he felt he had found a part of this lost childhood. His cross-country trips throughout the East, California, the South, the Midwest, and Southwest provided material for the historical insight he desired. For Morris, photography was evidence of loss; one moment of time that instantly passed, but which also revealed a new image. It was this theme of loss and gain that he would continuously apply to his work (Ibid., 16, 20).
Morris sought similar objects and scenes that made up the memories from his youth: “Stoops and doorways, windows and screens, the tubs, tools, and utensils of daily living, fences and gates, the patterns formed by light and shadows, verticals and horizontals.” He would later write an essay on the importance of photography in capturing the complexities of American life. Texts and images were not in competition with one another, but instead were equals and naturally intertwined (Ibid., 16).
During the last years of his life, Morris devoted himself entirely to writing, but was steadfast in his thinking that words could not be applied to some visual experiences (Ibid., 45). In his 1969 preface to The Inhabitants, he talked of choosing subject matter for his photos based solely on how he felt: “Doors and windows, gates, stoops, samples of litter, assorted junk, anything that appeared to have served its purpose…In the matter of selection of such objects, I relied entirely on my feelings about them: They spoke to me, or did not speak” (Morris, The Inhabitants, Preface to the Second Edition).
Turner Browne and Elaine Partnow, MacMillan Biographical Encyclopedia of Photographic Artists & Innovators, MacMillan Publishing Company. 1983.
Alan Trachtenberg and Ralph Lieberman, Distinctly American : The Photography of Wright Morris, Merrell, Cantor Center at Stanford. 2002.