Traveling Down the Danube
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Danube Revisited is part road trip, part history project, and part creation of new work. The project will take nine photographers on a trip in a truck, retracing photographer Inge Morath's iconic journey down the Danube River. They will also bring with them an exhibition of Morath’s own photographs; in addition to this, they’ll collaborate with women artists along the way to generate new work.
The project came together when the awardees were in Austria showing work they’d created. The gallery’s founders, who knew Morath, told them stories of her journey and the genuine connections she’d fostered with her subjects. The group was also given Morath’s unpublished diaries. From here, the idea for a traveling gallery that would retrace the journey was born.
The artists are Olivia Arthur, Lurdes R. Basolí, Kathryn Cook, Mimi Chakarova, Jessica Dimmock, Claudia Guadarrama, Claire Martin, Emily Schiffer, and Ami Vitale. We talked with Arthur, Basolí, Martin, and Schiffer about the project, how it came to be, and what it aims to generate.
How did you come up with the idea for the project, and how has it evolved since?
Emily: The idea for the project began in 2012 when Lurdes, Olivia and I had a show together in Austria at the gallery that represents Inge Morath. We got along fabulously, and someone suggested that we teach workshops together. We were learning a lot about Inge from the gallery owners who knew her well, and we discovered that her Danube work was her favorite and most beloved project. We talked a lot about how the communities that Inge photographed didn't often have the opportunity to see her images in their exhibition form. We thought it would be really interesting to take Inge's images back to their origins, and to honor Inge's legacy by continuing her project. Somehow, the idea of converting a truck into a mobile gallery and going on an epic road trip emerged, and we decided to make it happen. We invited all of the Inge Morath award recipients to take part, and Claire Martin jumped on board to help with the project development, grant writing and coordination.
Lurdes: That’s the nice thing about meeting photographers you admire in person in the Facebook days — especially for photographers, since it is a quite lonely profession. You get a feeling, you share it, and though many ideas stay dreams, we trusted in the power of this collaboration since the beginning.
You are not only creating work, but also traveling with Inge's images. Is this, in a way, a history project?
Olivia: It is a legacy project really. It started out as an idea to honor Inge's name, as a sort of tribute for the help we had been given in her name. So in a way it is about extending someone's legacy on to the next generation. I know that at Magnum they created the Inge Morath Award because they felt that Inge was really supportive of younger photographers and wanted to add to that, so its about bringing something around, completing the circle.
Claire: Another aspect that incorporates a historical element into the project is the concept of the truck being able to return Inge’s photographs from before and after the fall of the Soviet Union to the same villiages that Inge photographed in, connecting the people of these places with their own history. The mobile nature of the exhibition also means that towns that otherwise may not have the opportunity to receive cultural projects of this scale are included.
Lurdes: Yes, historical on the truck exhibition element, but dialoguing with the present (by socialising it and by photographing the River again), so it is historical, but also contemporary. This is how we contribute to her legacy. Also dialoguing with local people, both general public, old (in the pics) and younger, and also with specific photography audience… All these interactions makes it quite special to us.
Emily: It’s been really exciting to read Inge’s diaries and to get to know her as a person. Ordinarily, when you win an award you don’t have the opportunity to connect with the person whose name it honors in such a personal way.
Had any of you done a collaboration of this scale before?
Olivia: We didn't even know each other before (and we were only in Salzburg for two days). The crazy thing is that even after two years of emails and calls, I have still not met Claire, so we all still have a lot to learn about each other. I think also none of us have worked on something of this scale before. We have learned a lot about how much work goes into such a project. Of course initially we had to consolidate our ideas, what was it that we actually wanted to do/would be able to pull off. We had four opinions in three different continents and it was a lot of to-and-fro — lots of different opinions and ideas and enthusiasm pulling the project in different directions, and eventually finding the right way.
Lurdes: I have been working on [an ongoing] massive group project of five photographers since 2010. It is an editorial assignment, but the basis is to make a documentary on a social issue in Europe. I am the only woman, [and] I can see great differences in the group dynamics and in the relationships between members now that I have been working for over two years with three other women. It is very interesting.
Emily: Despite the endless important details that we have to plan, our communication is amazing. We are all really committed to the project and to each other, and we’re willing to adapt our ideas to benefit the greater good of the project.
I’ve spent the past three years working on a collaborative public art project in Chicago called SEE POTENTIAL (also launched via Kickstarter). That has been a lot to coordinate, but doesn’t have nearly as many logistics to plan as this project does.
Can you talk about the importance of women artists supporting one another?
Claire: It’s my understanding that Magnum Created the Inge Morath Award in part because they were all so touched by her in their work and lives within the collective, but also as the first female member of an agency that still today is near 90% male. Hopefully an award in her name, for women, would act as an effort on the agency’s part to diminish its gender bias. All the Inge Morath Award winners involved in this project have benefitted greatly in our careers from this award and we want to give back. We hope to to break the narrative of the male perspective by creating a project that celebrates a woman's point of view. One of our goals has always been that this is a project by women, for women and in the legacy of a pioneering woman.
Lurdes: We are supporting each other and female documentary photography, but we are [also] giving a key importance to local photographers, which is the way we refer to all these photographers living in the Danubian countries we are hoping to join during our roadtrip and that will be part of the final show.
Emily: Women—particularly female photographers who travel frequently—feel that they must choose between their career and having a family. We work in a field that is dominated by men, so often women feel as though they have to downplay the aspects of their lives that are different from their male counterparts. It’s quite the opposite with us. This plays out in small ways (such as the group tolerating a screaming toddler during Skype calls) and larger ways (such as making it possible for the mothers in our group to bring their children along on the journey, and hiring a babysitter so they can go off on their own when they want to).
What part makes you the most nervous? The most excited?
Olivia: Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the volume of work that goes into pulling all of this together. It has been a good lesson for me of coordinating with others because as photographers we are somehow always working alone or as an individual within something. This was and is really collaborative and that is both exciting and daunting. we will, no doubt, have a lot of opinions to share when we get on the road.
Claire: The collaborations—between all of us, locals, institutions, sponsors and project partners—are what makes it so great, but also so volatile. With so many people involved, there are so many opinions, so many objectives to appease, so many big misses and big wins, changes of plans and shedules to accommodate, but this in it’s essence is also what makes it such a dynamic project. It’s been a thrill to work on something like this. The nerves are the result of taking risks to achieve something big and deeply rewarding.
Emily: I worry about how my one-year-old daughter will handle the travel, and about whether it is fair to separate her from her father for so much time. I am most excited to shoot and participate in the critique of our new work as it’s being created. I think the dialogue we will have about our images will push or work to new levels.
Lurdes: Since it is my first time with such a big collaborative project and coordinating it without much experience—what has made me nervous is having to follow or push people, institutions, partners, etc. At the beginning it was fine, but as work increased, it has been quite hard sometimes since we all have our own daily work. What excites me the most is to put the gallery-truck on the road and to finally meet all these girls and share photography live, not through a screen anymore.
Claire: Yes, to get away from the computer is the most exciting thing!