Barbara Morgan (1900 – 1992)

Barbara Morgan is well known in the worlds of visual arts and dance for her penetrating photographic studies of american modern dancers including Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham and José Limón. In her series of dance photographs, Morgan captured the essence of modern dance and created timeless documents that are brilliant artistic images in two-dimension. Morgan was equally adept at portraiture Barbara Morgan is well known in the worlds of visual arts and dance for her penetrating photographic studies of american modern dancers including Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham and José Limón. In her series of dance photographs, Morgan captured the essence of modern dance and created timeless documents that are brilliant artistic images in two-dimension. Morgan was equally adept at portraiture as well as manipulating disparate elements into new multi-layered images or photomontage. Her photomontage and light drawings push the art of photography beyond that of simply a tool that records a scene or event. Her abstract montage works demonstrate Morgan’s grasp of the scientific properties of the medium and her ability to stretch the limits of photography to create exciting, kinetic imagery.  Morgan trained as a painter at the University of California, Los Angeles. Upon seeing an exhibit by Edward Weston, she became attracted to photography as an art form.  In 1935, as her family responsibilities grew leaving her less time for painting, photography became her principal medium. As an artist, Morgan immediately distanced herself from “pure photography” and began experimenting. With her camera, she explored the photographic medium through a wide range of methods such as montage, double exposure and extended time exposure. The resulting black and white prints she produced in the 1930s and 40s rank among the classic experiments of modern american photographic art.  Morgan’s photographs fall into two important areas in the history of photography: expressionist and manipulated image photography. Photographic meaning for expressionist photography extends beyond the photograph and becomes a symbol expressing personal vision and cultural values. Thus, photography from an Expressionist’s point of view is not essentially a vehicle for documentation, but aims at interpretation of its subjects. Images in photography formed from this perspective are often metaphorical. Expressionists such as Morgan, argue for a separation of the medium as a fine art from it’s functional and casual “snapshot” tradition.  The second main axis running through Morgan’s photographs is her experimental uses of manipulated or altered images created using montage, double exposure and time exposure techniques. Manipulating photographic images was important to Morgan because it freed her from any fears that a photograph is a mere record or copy. An exploration of the relationship of the camera to other visual arts media, such as dance, and subjective transformation of the materials being photographed is the essential part of creating the unique images of Barbara Morgan.  “Every photographer has his own methods of personal expression. My way is to allow the unconscious to do a large share of the work. First, I watch rehearsals and performances in complete detachment . . . without trying to plan pictures. Next, I let these impressions ‘soak in’ over as long a period as possible . . . I like to photograph only when I have had time to digest the subject and assimilate it with all I know and feel.”  Morgan’s 70 year career included her involvement as a founding member of Aperture and the publication of several photography books including Martha Graham: Sixteen Dances in Photographs and Summer’s Children: A Photographic Cycle of Life at Camp.