Narrative Presence

Narrative Presence

American author Wright Morris (1910-1998) started photographing on a trip to Europe in 1933. He devoted only a short period of his life to image-making – shooting most intensively between 1938 and 1947. Many of the photographs documented poverty in the US, recording the realities of life in rural areas in the aftermath of the Great Depression. These works are on view in The Home Place, a new exhibition at Foam, Amsterdam.

Abandoned houses sit within deserted landscapes. Broken windows reflect open terrain. Wooden structures nestle against the skyline. Each of Morris’ buildings stand silently, devoid of human presence. The high-contrast scenes speak of impermanence and emptiness. They wrestle with the passage of time – highlighting the devastating impact of the 1930s. In this way, Morris’ work is like that of Walker Evans (1903-1975) and Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), famous documentary photographers who were active in the same period.

Despite this comparison, Foam states that Morris took a more personal approach – looking back towards childhood experiences in Nebraska following his father’s death. He made intimate still-lifes of everyday home interiors, offering a window into daily experience. Cutlery is strewn on newsprint, a drawer of personal items is laid bare, mirrors project family portraits. Each snapshot is unique and revealing – traversing the boundaries between public and private. Some are laden with narrative: a wooden chair waits beside a closed door.

The links between visuals and storytelling were strong in Morris’ work. Alongside prize-winning literature, he published several photographic novels, combining classic documentary photography with fictional tales. These illustrated stories were based on wanderings across native soil and the wider US – blending truth and imagination in unprecedented ways. Images and writing continued to reinforce each other, offering intriguing, semi-autobiographical perspectives on people and places across America.

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Lead image: Wright Morris, Tomstone, Arizona, 1940 © Estate of Wright Morris.
Gallery images: 1. Wright Morris, The Home Place, Norfolk, Nebraska, 1947 © Estate of Wright Morris.
2. Wright Morris, “Gano” Grain Elevator, Kinsley, Kansas, 1940 © Estate of Wright Morris.