Martha Graham's Movement Captured in Stills by Photographer Barbara Morgan

Barbara Morgan, "Martha Graham, Letter to the World," 1940

Barbara Morgan, "Martha Graham, Letter to the World," 1940, Gelatin silver print, 14 x 20 in., Bank of America Collection

Since dance is, by definition, motion, it is a formidable subject for the photographer’s lens. Yet Barbara Morgan’s 50-year career began with her stunning photographs ofAmerica’s modern-dance pioneers.

Barbara Brookes Johnson was born in Buffalo, Kansas, but raised in southern California. Having decided at age five to be a painter, she studied art at the University of California, Los Angelesand later taught design, woodcut, and painting there for five years. At UCLA, Morgan mounted an exhibition of Edward Weston, with whom she developed a lifelong friendship. In 1925, she married Willard D. Morgan, a prominent photojournalist, who encouraged her to explore photography. Morgan gave birth to two sons, in 1932 and 1935, and from 1935 until the end of her life, she devoted her professional life to the medium of photography.

In 1930, the Morgans moved to New York, the focal point of avant-garde dance in the United States. Inspired by one of Martha Graham’s performances, Morgan determined to create a book of photographs of Graham’s troupe. Published in 1941, the book, Martha Graham: Sixteen Dances in Photographs, was a landmark in both Morgan’s and Graham’s careers. In addition to their extraordinary power and beauty, these photographs, displayed in traveling exhibitions, introduced many people across theUnited States and abroad to modern dance, then a relatively unknown art form. The photographs impart an instant of action, a moment in time transformed into timeless gestures that also convey emotional truths.

At her home inScarsdale,New York, where she moved in 1941 and where she spent the rest of her life, Morgan continued taking photographs of dancers, children, and other subjects; she experimented with pictures of light sources in motion, published several more books, and received numerous grants and honors.

Content from Clara: Database of Women Artists®

This work along with another of Martha Graham by Barbara Morgan is on view in Eye Wonder: Photography from the Bank of America Collection.