Exposition Art Blog: Barbara Morgan - Photographer Of Modern Dance

Barbara Morgan - Photographer Of Modern Dance

Barbara Morgan (July 8, 1900 – August 17, 1992) was an American photographer best known for her depictions of modern dancers. She was a co-founder of the photography magazine Aperture.Morgan is known in the visual art and dance worlds for her penetrating studies of American modern dancers Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Erick Hawkins, Jose Limon, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman and others. Morgan’s drawings, prints, watercolors and paintings were exhibited widely in California in the 1920s, and in New York and Philadelphia in the 1930s.With two young children, Douglas born in 1932 and Lloyd in 1935, Barbara sought a workable way to be both a mother and an artist. To abandon painting in favor of photography seemed extreme, but for two saving factors; first, the emergence of an idea for a future book, and second, not requiring the uninterrupted daylight hours that painting does, and one could work at night in the darkroom. Although Barbara had exposed thousands of images, she still did not consider herself a photographer because she had not completed a cycle of developing and printing her own work. Thus she set up a new studio with a darkroom at 10 East 23rd Street, overlooking Madison Square, and began experimenting with the technical and darkroom aspects of photography in 1931. Barbara learned processing from Willard and worked on other gaps in her technique, chiefly with the 4x5 Speed Graphic camera and Leica with all lenses. She worked with Harold Harvey as he was perfecting his all temperature Replenishing Fine Grain Developer 777. During this time she started to explore photomontage

 In 1935 Barbara attended a performance of the young Martha Graham Dance Company. She was immediately struck with the historical and social importance of the emerging American Modern Dance movement:
    “The photographers and painters who dealt with the Depression, often, it seemed to me, only added to defeatism without giving courage or hope. Yet the galvanizing protest danced by Martha Graham, Humphrey-Weidman, Tamiris and others was heartening. Often nearly starving, they never gave up, but forged life affirming dance statements of American society in stress and strain. In this role, their dance reminded me of Indian ceremonial dances which invigorate the tribe in drought and difficulty.”
    Morgan conceived of her 1941 book project Martha Graham: Sixteen Dances in Photographs- the year she met Graham. From 1935 through the 1945 she photographed more than 40 established dancers and choreographers, and she described her process:“To epitomize…a dance with camera, stage performances are inadequate, because in that situation one can only fortuitously record. For my interpretation it was necessary to redirect, relight, and photographically synthesize what I felt to be the core of the total dance.”

 Graham and Morgan developed a relationship that would last some 60 years. Their correspondence attests to their mutual affection, trust and respect. In 1980, Graham stated:
    “It is rare that even an inspired photographer possesses the demonic eye which can capture the instant of dance and transform it into timeless gesture. In Barbara Morgan I found that person. In looking at these photographs today, I feel, as I felt when I first saw them, privileged to have been a part of this collaboration. For to me, Barbara Morgan through her art reveals the inner landscape that is a dancer’s world.”
In 1945, with sponsorship by the National Gallery and the State Department, Morgan mounted the exhibition La Danza Moderna Norte-Americana: Fotografias por Barbara Morgan – 44 panel mounted enlargements, exhibited first at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, then for a South American tour.Wikipedia

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