Barbara Morgan: Letter to the World

On View Now
October 18, 2019 to February 9, 2020

Barbara Morgan: Letter to the World

Barbara Morgan (United States, 1900-1992), Wild Bee Honeycomb Skyscraper (detail), 1973 photomontage, 19 7/8 x 15 7/8 inches Gift of Paul B. Ford 1984.340

Barbara Morgan (1900-1992) was a pioneering figure in American photography known for her dynamic images of modern dance, experiments in photomontage, and gestural light drawings. Throughout her career, Morgan worked to visualize the “inner meanings” of her subjects. Her photographs capture fundamental elements of both photography and life – light and motion. Raised in southern California, Morgan studied and taught painting and became interested in gesture and movement. She carried this fascination into her photography, determined to record what she called the world’s “rhythmic vitality.”

After moving to New York, Morgan met modern dancer and choreographer Martha Graham and established a fruitful creative partnership. Morgan produced dramatic photographs of Graham and fellow performers that crystalize entire sequences down to a single emblematic pose. As fellow photographers exploited the camera’s documentary potential, Morgan veered in the opposite direction, experimenting with abstraction by combining multiple exposures and producing images through extended exposure times. In 1952, she bolstered photographers across the field working to establish photography as fine art by co-founding the influential magazine Aperture. The varied images on view in this exhibition reflect Morgan’s lifelong fascination with movement at every level, from the atomic to the tectonic, and her ceaseless effort to distill that energy into her photographs. 

This exhibtion is curated by Diana Greenwold, Associate Curator of American Art, with generous support from Caroline Webb, former Winslow Homer Curatorial and Interpretation Fellow (2019). 

Caroline Webb was raised in Maine and recently graduated from Colby College with a degree in Latin American Studies, Anthropology, and Art History. She interned with the Colby College Museum of Art, served as Portland Museum of Art Winslow Homer Curatorial and Interpretation Fellow, and is currently a curatorial intern with the Department of Drawings and Prints at the Museum of Modern Art.


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