From the Collection: Photographs by Wright Morris

Wright Morris was an American novelist, photographer, and essayist known for his portrayals of people and artifacts of the Great Plains, and for experimenting with narrative forms. (source)

The following photographs, donated to the Mead in 2013, appeared in Morris’s published “photo-texts” – pairings of his photographs with passages of his writing. The photographs aren’t meant to illustrate the text, and the text isn’t intended as a description for the photographs. Instead, the pairings are meant to enhance and expand the viewer’s own interpretation of each.

Dresser Drawer, near Norfolk, Nebraska2013-01-6“I looked at the odds and ends on the bureau, the pincushion lid on the cigar box, the faded Legion poppies, assorted pills, patent medicines. There was not a thing of beauty, a manmade loveliness, anywhere. A strange thing, for whatever it was I was feeling, at that moment, was what I expect a thing of beauty to make me feel. To take me out of my self, into the selves of other things. I’ve been in the habit, recently, of saying that if we could feel anything, very long, it would kill us, and that we get on by not even feeling ourselves. To keep that from happening we have this thing called embarrassment. That snaps it off, like an antisepsis, or we rely on our wives, or one of our friends, to take the pressure out of the room with a crack of some kind. That’s what I was about to do. For once in my life I didn’t, but as I had to do something I went into Ed’s room and opened the bureau drawer, and called, ‘Oh, Peg!’ When she came in I said–‘Ed used to hunt. He used to go off for a day at a time, with a dog and a gun, up the river. When I was a kid there was still a wolf or two around here.’ I said that, then I closed the drawer, making it clear that we could mind his public business, but leave his private business alone.”

 Gano Grain Elevator, Western Kansas2013-01-1“Donaldson’s hitch bar would have to go. So would the split elm and the horse trough full of marbles, the old chain swing. Mr. Cole said the horses would soon go too. Cement paving would wear their hooves to the bone, he said. Willie said, for what did horses have shoes? Mr. Cole spit and said some day the paving would go right out of town. It would go to the east first, and then it would go to the west. He said when Willie had kids he’d bet their kids would ride it for miles. And when their kids had kids they’d ride it clear to Omaha. Willie rolled up his sleeve and felt in the horse trough for marbles. What makes you think, Willie said, that I’m goin’ in for kids?”

House in Winter, Eastern Nebraska2013-01-3“But they never get big enough to hold all the men that left them–the roads lead back, but the travel is still the other way.

I have here, said the man–some beautiful handmade flowers.
He picked one up from the top of the suit box, sniffed at it.
I have just forty-two cents, I said.
It’s a quarter, he said.
It’s worth forty-two, I said.
The lilies, he said, are worth a dollar.
I put my hand out for the quarter one but the man gave me the lily.
I want the other one, I said.
I’m giving you this one, he said.
I’ve only forty-two cents, I said.
I’m giving you this one, he said.
Now listen–I said.
I can give it too, he said.
Now listen here–I said.
I’m not a beggar, he said.
Of course not, I said, you’re in business.
It’s slow, he said, but it’s a business.
But business, I said is business–
I’m giving you this one, he said.
Well, thank you very much–I said.
I can give it too–he said, and walked away.”

To see more of Morris’s photographs and paired writings from the collection, click here.

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