Barbara Morgan was a photographer who was so influential, she helped to popularize a new form of dance through her photographs of Modern dancers, especially Martha Graham.

At the age of 19, Morgan trained as a painter from 1919 to 1923 at UCLA, going on to teach in its art department from 1925 to 1930 (Grenne). She was inspired to become a photographer after seeing the work and eventually meeting the then-unknown photographer Edward Weston in 1930 (Greene). She moved to New York City just as Martha Graham, a pioneer of Modern Dance, was beginning to establish her importance in the mid-1930s (Greene). After attending one of her performances, Morgan was inspired to photograph Graham and her company. Graham agreed to the project and they arranged to met in her studio (Greene).

Without a doubt, Morgan is best known for her photograph called “Martha Graham: Letter to the World,” or alternatively, “The Kick.”

Kendra Greene wrote the following details about the creation of the photograph: “It was made in 1940 with a 4×5 Speed Graphic camera and required Graham to repeat a single kicking sequence until Morgan decided she had captured the image she wanted. With the lights wired to a single circuit, she then activated them simultaneously, popping each for approximately 1/600th of a second, effectively equaling the time of her shutter speed as well as the rapidity of Graham’s movement. The technique produced the desired likeness of a blurry studio floor and backdrop, lending further prominence to the figure of the dancer. Since it was taken in 1940 the picture has become the most widely published image of Martha Graham.”

Morgan recorded Graham’s strength and captured a sense of impending movement through the dancer’s body position and the flow of the dress. The combination of expression on Graham’s face, the position of the arms, and the lighting add a dramatic effect, which is the intention of Modern dance. Furthermore, the dancer’s body contrasts with the emptiness around it, adding more drama and emotion to the story. This is further exemplified with the contrast of the whiteness of subject against the dark background. Also, as the Photo Idea Index describes, “Flying fabric conveys an expressive sense of action.”

Another important visual detail is the alignment of the horizon with Graham’s body. It adds balance to the photograph by showing a horizontal symmetry. It also helps with the flow of the photograph because the viewer can follow the horizon line starting with the hand at her face and continuing along skirt through the rest of the photograph.

Even though “The Kick” is one of the most famous of Morgan’s photographs of Graham, it is certainly not the only one. Another one of her photographs that employs many of the same techniques but has entirely different meanings for them is “Lamentation.” Again, dramatic lighting and facial expression heighten the emotion of the photograph. With this image, Morgan clearly used a single, high-angle spotlight to distinctly capture the dancer and also add shadow behind and around her. As the Photo Idea Index describes, “Shadows can infuse a photo with all kinds of aesthetic bonus material.”

In addition to the lighting, the single most striking feature is the angles. The disruptive angles throws the flow of the photograph into disarray, but when looking at the facial expression of the dancer, this is clearly the intention of the position. This theme is also evident with the slightly tilted horizon line in the background.

Also, the pull of the fabric adds texture to the photograph. Similarly to the “The Kick,” the color of the costume is contrasted by the background, but there seems to be a different meaning for that in this photograph. In this instance, she is wearing a gray costume with a black and white background. It may represent an internal struggle, like a “gray area” in a “black and white world.”

Next, Morgan’s photograph of Graham called “Satyric Festive Song” is a sharp contrast from the previous two for several reasons. Morgan chose to focus strictly on movement with this photograph because the dancer is the only focal point and is centered. Again, this photograph makes use of the angles of the dancer’s movement, but they are more balanced and asymmetrical. The photograph is balanced because of the constancy of the horizontal lines. The blurred movement of her hair gives the feeling of suspended action and makes it interesting.

Although the lighting is not dramatic like the previous two, Morgan again used the framing of emptiness around Graham to eliminate distractions and keep the focus on the subject. The simplicity of the surroundings is contrasted to the business of the action and costume.

Graham was not Morgan’s only subject. This photograph, called “The Exile,” features Modern dancer, and one of Graham’s students, Anna Sokolow. One of the greatest differences between this photograph and the previous ones Graham is the costume. In this instance, the movement in this photograph is more important than the symbolism of the costume. However, it should be mentioned that the fabric enhances and dramatizes the dancer’s movement. Also, the flow of the skirt is contrasted by the expression of the dancer, whose stern face juxtaposes the beauty of the movement.

For this photograph, Morgan had to have used continuous shooting to record the fast moving subject. In doing so, she stopped time and used the dancer to create a visual sentence about the dance piece. As Photo Idea Index describes, “Connotations of action add notes of reality to certain scenes and help engage a viewer’s attention.”

It is interesting that Morgan matched the point of view of the dancer by being level with her. This allowed her to capture the proper intention of the dancer’s movement. In other words, if this was shot at a higher angle, her legs would not look parallel and her facial expression would not have been properly documented.

As in before, the horizon adds to the flow and adds balance even though the image is asymmetrical. Another reason it is so balanced is because the dancer is perfectly centered. This framing is most appropriate because so much action, emotion, and story is going on with the dancer, other visual elements would make the photograph too busy.

While Morgan may be best known for her photographs of dancers, she has a variety of other works, including this light drawing called “Emanations.” Even though it is not dance, Morgan brilliantly captured movement. This photograph shows interesting shapes and visual texture of moving light. Deba P. Patnaik, writer for the Aperture Foundation, said, “A former painter, Morgan used montage and manipulated imagery to express the visual and kinetic energy of New York City.” The contrast of the larger circular lights with the curvy vertical line is synthesized by the framing. The flow of the light creates the feeling of excitement and activity. The subject is made more vivid by both the places of overexposure and the black background.

In conclusion, a few things about Morgan’s works should be mentioned. First, Morgan spent six years photographing Graham and ultimately complied the work into her book called , “Martha Graham: 16 Dances in Photographs” (Dunning). Also, throughout her career, she photographed 32 dancers and choreographers, including Merce Cunningham, Erick Hawkins, Jose Limon, Doris Humphrey, and Charles Weidman, all of whom are extremely important and influential to Modern Dance, among others (“Women Photographers”). Finally, while it may seem that Morgan may have taken hundreds of photographs to capture a few good images, she said, “Previsualizing is the first essential of dance photography. The ecstatic gesture happens swiftly and is gone; unless the photographer previsions in order to fuse dance action, light and space simultaneously, there can be no significant dance picture” (“Barbara”). Morgan’s documentation of the beginnings of the never-before-seen dance genre elevated both dance and photography to exquisite art forms that deserve to be studied and appreciated.

Works Cited

“Barbara Morgan.” A Gallery for Fine Photography. 1999. <;.

Dunning, Jennifer. “Barbara Morgan, Photographer of Modern Dance, is Dead at 92.” The New York Times. Aug 19, 1992. <;.

Krause, Jim. “Photo Idea Index.” How Books, Cincinnati, Ohio: 2005.

Patnaik, Deba P. “Barbara Morgan: Masters of Photography.” Aperture Foundation. <;.

“Women Photographers.” UCR/California Museum of Photography. 1999. <;.

Photograph Citations



“Satyric Festive Song”

“The Exile”

“The Kick”

By David Hume Kennerly

By David Hume Kennerly

David Hume Kennerly is an extremely influential political photographer who has had quite a career, to say the least.
At the age of 25, Kennerly won a Pulitzer Prize for his collection of photography from the Vietnam War. He has since photographed eight wars and has been a contributing photographer for TIME, LIFE, and Newsweek magazines.

Additionally, Kennerly was Official White House Photographer for the Ford Administration and recently published his work from his time in the White House in his book called “Extraordinary Circumstances: The Presidency of Gerald R. Ford.”

Kennerly’s unique perspective is what has allowed him to have such a successful career. As evident in the photographs included in this blog post, he can capture a simple event or action, but reveal so much more about the subject through techniques such as lighting or point of view.

By David Hume Kennerly

For example, the photograph with the young solider on the armored personnel carrier is very complex. The solider is obviously a young man, but the way his hair blocks his face and his head is down makes him look like a little boy who is upset. This is gripping because it reminds the audience that ordinary young men were over in a foreign land with dangerous weapons and were responsible for defending the United States. Another interesting aspect of this photograph is the large crucifix the young solider is wearing. The juxtaposition of religion and a huge weapon are made more powerful through the posture of the young solider.

By David Hume Kennerly

On his portfolio of the Vietnam War, Kennerly said, “I wanted to show the periphery of war and to depict the people who lived there… They all lived in a place where peace was only a distant rumor.”

David Hume Kennerly is still an active photographer and political photographer and continues to take powerful and influential photographs.

By David Hume Kennerly

By David Hume Kennerly

All photographs on this post by David Hume Kennerly.

Photographs and information from:

Outside of National Portrait Gallery

While the National Portrait Gallery’s theme is American Art, one exhibit, called “Feature Photography,” has had various works of six photographers on display for the past couple of months. The portraits on display are by Katy Grannan, Jocelyn Lee, Ryan McGinley, Steve Pike, Martin Schoeller, and Alec Soth.The most interesting body of work was the photographs by Katy Grannan. The photographs are so real and raw. Many of her photographs experiment with texture. The colors are generally mundane, but the fabrics of the clothing the people in her photographs are usually contrasted by hard objects or surfaces that surround her subjects.

Another fascinating collection was by Mike Schoeller. His intimate style of portraiture involves a close up of the subject’s face. His subjects look right into the camera and are standing in front of a white background. Two particularly striking portraits were of female body builders. What was so interesting about those photographs were the soft, housewife/mother-like looking faces on the chiseled muscular bodies.

One of the photographs in Gannan’s collection featured actor Forest Whitaker. Her incorporation of celebrity is a sharp contrast from Martin Schoeller’s work. While Gannan makes the celebrity a part of her gritty world, Schoeller makes the celebrity the entire focus in the photograph with his extreme close-ups.

Word Illustration: Solitude

September 21, 2009

By Lauren Eilola

By Lauren Eilola

This photo essay is a word illustration of “solitude.” My classmates and I had one week to complete this assignment, so we did not have time to have a more succinct collection, such as all black-and-white; however, all of the photographs are expression of solitude.

I rarely take photographs, so I did not a library to choose from for this project, so I kept my camera on me for the past week, searching for “solitude.” I happened across this female in a long hallway in the Katzen Arts Center on campus. The couches in this hallway are usually empty, so it was a good idea on her part to choose this place to be alone. I tried to crop the photo to obey the rule of thirds. Additionally, I choose to make the photo black-and-white to highlight the all of the shadows. Most of the photograph is very structured, with the columns and square couches, but I think the lighting adds an element of peace and serenity.

Overall, I am thrilled with the collection my classmates and I put together. I am very impressed with the beautiful photographs they contributed.

By Emily Kline

By Emily Kline

By Emily Anna Isayeff

By Emily Anna Isayeff

By Lauren May

By Lauren May

By Gretchen Kast

By Gretchen Kast

Single Picture Review

September 12, 2009

Supreme Court Justice Sonie Sotomayor

Supreme Court Justice Sonie Sotomayor

After much interrogation and controversy, Sonia Sotomayor was recently sworn in as Supreme Court Justice. In this photograph, numerous visual techniques are employed to convey several messages.
To begin, one of the most striking features of this photograph are the many lines behind Justice Sotomayor. According to “Images, Objects and Ideas: Viewing the Visual Arts,” horizontal lines represent peace and calmness. These qualities are often associated with women and it may represent what people believe she will bring to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is presented in the photograph as the columns in the background, because vertical lines symbolize power, nobility, and confidence. But as is visible, while she is officially a part of the Supreme Court, Justice Sotomayor has many steps to go until she is an experienced member.
Another interesting feature of this photograph is the use of color. Justice Sotomayor is the gray-area of the firmly established black and white of the rest of the photograph. The lack of color is important in reference to the seriousness of the Supreme Court.
Finally, the symmetry of the photograph provides balance and order to the image (“Images, Objects, and Idaes”), just as Justice Sotomayor is expected to bring to the Supreme Court. Furthermore, her arms appear as though she could be weighing an issue on the scales of justice and that she will hopefully keep them balanced, even though her face is completely facing one side.
Overall, these are just a few of the many messages the photographer conveyed through his use of visual techniques when documenting this historic event.