Barbara Morgan


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Photographer. Known especially for images of dancers, she often employed complex methods of shooting and printing. Yet, she remained less interested in clever compositions than in human experience or psychology. She also made light drawings, photographs of children, and close-ups, most often of nature subjects. Born in the southeastern Kansas town of Buffalo, Barbara Brooks grew up in Southern California. She graduated in 1923 from UCLA, with a major in art. She continued painting after marriage two years later to photographer WillardDeteringMorgan (1900–1967), later the first photo editor for Life magazine and an author of books on photographic technique. Moving in 1930 to New York, they made their home in suburban Westchester county, and she turned seriously to photography about five years later. To evoke the vital rhythms of city life, she often combined negatives into composites, or photomontages. Although this technique had been popular among serious European photographers since the early 1920s, it hardly interested Americans of the period. For “In Spring on Madison” (1938), she superimposed two oversized flower silhouettes on a profile of dancer Erick Hawkins, then overlaid this double image on a picture of New Yorkers trudging through late winter snow and slush. Hawkins was then a member of Martha Graham's troupe, the focus of Morgan's dance work, although she also photographed many others. Particularly between 1935 and 1941, she worked closely with Graham on a long series of unsurpassed studies. Morgan sometimes combined and superimposed dance images to suggest action, but she also developed the capacity to freeze essential transitional moments to imply movement. Her best-known dance image, from 1940, pictures Graham bending forward so that her body is horizontal as her floor-length skirt swings momentarily into an arc over her back. Morgan collected the Graham photographs in Martha Graham: Sixteen Dances in Photographs (1941), a landmark in establishing both their reputations. She also published Summer's Children: A Photographer's Cycle of Life at Camp (1951) and Barbara Morgan: Monograph (1972). She died in a hospital in North Tarrytown, not far from suburban Scarsdale, her home of more than fifty years.

Subjects: Photography and Photographs.

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