Travel with Misfits
Inge Morath: road to reno
Reno, NV 89501
If you’ve been in the Reno area for more than a couple days, you’ve probably heard about The Misfits. The 1961 film stars Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable and was written by legendary writer Arthur Miller, who was married to Monroe at the time. The entire film was shot on location in and around Reno.
The Magnum photography agency commissioned Inge Morath to photograph the production of the film. So, in 1960, Morath and Henri Cartier-Bresson drove from New York City to Reno. Inge Morath: road to reno, now showing at the Nevada Museum of Art through July 15, is a series of photos documenting the journey.
Naturally enough, the first photos are of New York and the Northeast. Marvels of engineering—skyscrapers, bridges, etc.—are given a lot of attention. The trip took them first south, as far as the Carolinas, then due west across the vast emptiness of the plains. Along the way, images that are now familiar to any experienced road-tripper are displayed: scenic views, gaudy billboards, odd glimpses of Americana and consumerism.
The artist seems especially interested in the contradictions of modernization. There are several photos of century-old houses and buildings juxtaposed with imposing new hotel towers and office buildings. Several photos are dedicated to surreal encounters between middle-class tourists and Native Americans donning full traditional wardrobe.
The constant recycling of old and new portrays a transient quality of America that Morath, a prolific writer and note taker, as well as a photographer, recognizes with some of the titles, such as, “Wetumka, Oklahoma. Most of the houses are abandoned, crumbling. Things come and go fast here.”
Morath’s take on the modern road trip, and on America in general, was from an outsider’s perspective. She was born in Austria, and, although she had made several trips to the United States by this time, the trip to Reno was her first excursion outside of New York. Arthur Miller, who married Morath in 1962, described her as having “a European’s wise and, at the same time, wide-eyed view of this crazy country. She caught all the insane contradictions that were here because they were very fresh to her; she was unprepared for them.”
The random goofiness that is Middle America, of course, was mere prelude to the crescendo of her journey—the surreal post-modern weirdness that is the casino.
Miller goes on to say that, “Reno, initially, and The Misfits in particular, was a circus for Inge.”
About a third of the photos in the road to reno exhibit were taken in Reno. There are the predictable glamour shots of the film’s stars, Monroe and Gable, as well as more intimate portraits of the subjects. One photo of Monroe and Miller seems unique in its normalcy, given the couple’s immense fame. But there is also considerable attention given to the ordinary oddness of Reno, including photos of slot machines, ornate casino wallpaper and seemingly design-less decorations.
Whether you witnessed the filming of The Misfits firsthand, or you are learning of its existence right now, road to reno is a fun exhibit to take in. The Misfits features the final film performances of both Gable and Monroe, two absolute icons of 20th century film, and their indelible connection to Reno is worth remembering.