Barbara Morgan [Self-Portrait]
I chose to focus my “Adopt a Photographer” assignment on Barbara Morgan because as a dancer, I naturally enjoy her photography, which places a strong emphasis on dance and movement. But, I also love her use of lighting and composition, allowing the photographs retain almost a dream-like quality. The story of her success is interesting and her images are timeless.
Barbara Morgan grew up in California, and attended the University of California in Los Angeles as a painting student. She married photographer Willard D. Morgan, and was exposed to photography at an exhibit by Edward Weston. Upon meeting Martha Graham, a pioneer in modern dance, Morgan began to take photos of dancers such as Doris Humphrey, Jose Limon, and Merce Cunningham, and was the Bennington College Summer School of Dance’s official photographer. Her photography began to improve immensely and her work gained the public’s attention. In 1975, she was awarded the National Endowment for the Arts grant. Other notable awards include the Lifetime Achievement Award of American Society of Magazine Photographers and was the co-founder of the photography magazine, Aperture, and was also a member of the Photo League. The time span of her work ranges from 1934-1975. Her work encompassed the ideas of movement and energy, the beauty in motion. Her style ranged from some surrealistic, modernist work to more simplistic portraits in order to demonstrate the quality of the dancer’s movement. Her collections included photomontages and light drawings which experimented with moving light patterns.Morgan’s photographs in their permanent collections would include: History of Photography Collection, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film, Rochester, New York; Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.; Lincoln Center Library and Museum of the Performing Arts, New York; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.; and the University of California at Los Angeles Library. Throughout her career, she studied with 32 different choreographers and prepared an extensive collection of work.
Although there are no videos featuring Barbara Morgan’s work, I have included a piece by Martha Graham, to provide some context for Morgan’s inspiration, especially considering how closely they worked together.
Barbara Morgan, Martha Graham, Letter to the World (The Kick), 1940
I really like this picture not only for the breath-taking quality of movement that it possesses, but also for the dancer’s almost anguished expression.
Barbara Morgan, Valerie Bettis: Desperate Heart, 1944
I like this picture, although it is not one of my favorites by Barbara Morgan. Yet, I think it is an excellent display of some of her more surrealistic works, as it incorporates almost a “combination” of another print.
Martha Graham, Letter to the World, 1940
This picture is all about the dress for me. I love the shape of it because it really fills up the frame and makes a statement in the otherwise minimalistic space.
Martha Graham, Lamentation, 1935
In this picture, I find the lighting to be magnificent. I love how it is so harsh, as it really emphasizes the strangeness and the tormented appearance of the dancer.
Satyric Festival Song, 1935
In this picture, I love the juxtaposition between her hair and the shape of her body with the stripes of her dress. The combination of something so linear with the movement of her body is really eye-catching.