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A Llama in Times Square

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 06, 2017

Inge Morath Llama

That’s Linda the Llama, photographed by Inge Morath for Life magazine. I have seen this photo many times in various contexts, but until today, I’d never really stopped to ask who photographed it or how a llama came to be riding through Times Square in a car. Perhaps it’s the context of the location, but it looks almost like something a tourist would have snapped…until further inspection reveals the perfect composition of a great photographer at work.

The caption read the llama was enroute to make a television appearance, but Morath recalled differently in her notes: “Linda, the Lama [sic] rides home via Broadway. She is just coming home from a television show in New York’s A.B.C. studios and now takes a relaxed and long-necked look at the lights of one of the world’s most famous streets.” Her contact sheets showed that Morath was already photographing the llama inside the studio, and the Inge Morath Foundation suggests the photographer might have acquainted herself with the llama and the trainer at least a year ahead of their photo-session.

Morath was a member of Magnum Photos, joining the collective a few years after its inception. She initially joined as an editor and researcher but after taking up photography herself and assisting Henri Cartier-Bresson, she became a full member as a photographer in 1955.

I think that in studying [Cartier-Bresson’s] way of photographing I learned how to photograph myself, before I ever took a camera into my hand. […] It was instantly clear to me that from now on I would be a photographer. As I continued to photograph I became quite joyous. I knew that I could express the things I wanted to say by giving them form through my eyes.

I love this story about Morath from her Wikipedia profile (originally from a piece in Time):

In 1959, while photographing the making of The Unforgiven, starring Audrey Hepburn, Burt Lancaster, and Audie Murphy, Morath accompanied Huston and his friends duck hunting on a mountain lake outside Durango, Mexico. Photographing the excursion, Morath saw through her telephoto lens that Murphy and his companion had capsized their boat 350 feet from shore. She could see that Murphy, stunned, was nearly drowning. A skilled swimmer, Morath stripped to her underwear and hauled the two men ashore by her bra strap while the hunt continued uninterrupted.

A poster of A Llama in Times Square is available for sale on Magnum’s website.