Urgent Museum Notice

Barbara Morgan

A black-and-white photograph of a light-skinned adult woman standing against a white backdrop and holding a large, antique camera in her hands at an angle. She gazes to the side and has dark, wavy hair and wears a collared, buttoned jacket and slacks.

Photo by Willard D. Morgan, © The Barbara Morgan Archive, Hastings-on-Hudson, NY, USA

1900–1992

Raised in southern California, Morgan studied painting and printmaking at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she later taught design, woodcut, and painting for five years. In 1925, she married Willard Morgan, a photographer, writer, and editor, with whom she had two sons. After moving to New York City in 1930, she began to pursue photography over her other artistic practices, exploring the medium and experimenting with different lighting and printing techniques.

Attending a performance by the fledgling Martha Graham Company, Morgan decided to create a book of photographs of Graham’s troupe. Published in 1941, Martha Graham: Sixteen Dances in Photographs was a landmark in both Morgan’s and Graham’s careers. The photographs impart an instant of action—these moments in time are transformed into timeless gestures that also convey emotional truths.

In addition to their extraordinary power and beauty, her photographs were educational. Displayed in traveling exhibitions, the images introduced people across the U.S. and abroad to modern dance, then a relatively unknown art form. Many of Morgan’s photographs are considered the defining images of dancers, including Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, and Erick Hawkins.

At her home in Scarsdale, New York, where she moved in 1941 and lived out her life, Morgan continued taking photographs of dancers, children, and other subjects. She experimented with pictures of light sources in motion, published several more books, and received numerous grants and honors.

Artist Details

  • Name

    Barbara Morgan
  • Birth

    Buffalo, Kansas, 1900
  • Death

    North Tarrytown, New York, 1992
  • Phonetic Spelling

    bahr-bruh mawr-guhn

Works by Barbara Morgan

Puritan Love Duet (from "An American Document")

Puritan Love Duet portrays dancer-choreographer Martha Graham performing a piece from her 1938 composition, “An American Document,” with Erick Hawkins. Barbara Morgan’s images of Graham are among her most celebrated and memorable photographs.

“An American Document” is a dance drama, in which a narrator and a group of dancers summarize highlights from American history. The “Puritan Episode,” which includes the “Love Duet,” is...

Black-and-white photograph of a man, dressed in black, and Martha Graham, in white, dancing. Graham, lit from above, strikes one of her famous angular poses, both legs bent, the back foot pointing behind her. Her raised arms are held by the man, who stands with his back to us.