April 21, 2009

Wright Morris: Origin of a Species

Wright Morris, Light Pole and Grain Elevator, Eastern Nebraska, 1947

Wright Morris, photographer and writer, was born in Nebraska in 1910. He and his father traveled from place to place, including Chicago and California, as well as Mexico, but as he grew older, his works turned toward his original home place. In these photographs, taken around the country through the 1930’s and 40’s, he focused on the everyday life and the rural places and people of the time. Morris portrayed the simplicity of life in those times, the uncluttered life. There’s a place for everything, and everything should be put back in its place. Coats hang on their nails on a plain wooden wall, silverware lies lined up by type, forks with the forks and knives all together, in their own drawer. Even little bits and pieces that don’t have anywhere else to go-things such as a box of bullets, pill box, and other odds and ends-even these have their own drawer where everything is laid out and easily accessible.

Wright Morris, Front Door, Home Place, 1947

Wright Morris, Drawer with Silverware, Home Place, 1947

Wright Morris, Clothing on Hooks, Home Place, 1947

Wright Morris, Dresser Drawer, Ed's Place, 1947

These photographs are all full of simple forms, clean lines and common shapes, which accentuate the simplicity so prevalent in Wright Morris’ work. In the photograph Drawer with Silverware, there is nothing extravagant about the forks and knives pictured. They are simple pieces, arrayed in a straight line, side by side. Clothing on Hooks shows a couple of tattered coats and a hat hung on a wall, but they are simple work coats, and there is absolutely nothing about the wall, with its plain white paint and straight grey crosspiece, to detract from the main subject. It even helps to focus attention on the no-frills style of life revealed by the worn out clothing. Even Dresser Drawer, with its comparatively more complex subject matter, is simple in form, mostly square boxes with a few circular objects added in. Everything about these and other Wright Morris photographs suggests an un-adorned life, from the simplicity of the complete work to the uncomplicated shapes and lines contained within the works.

Wright Morris, Rocker, Home Place, 1947

Morris photographed the standard homes and main streets of the country, of the simple but hardworking people who live without the frills and material things that so many of us tend to collect but never need. It’s the things used by the typical family everyday that are the subjects of a great many of Morris’ works, such as the rocking chair that many a mother and grandmother has used to rock a young child to sleep. Wright Morris’ photographs show that there is beauty in the simplicity and order of these everyday scenes.

--Talia Dibbell

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