92 Items in this Learning Collection
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Martha Graham—Letter to the World

Accession Number

Martha Graham—Letter to the World

Barbara Morgan

Artist Nationality
American (North American)

Object Creation Date
1940, printed 1980

Medium & Support
gelatin silver print on paper

15 13/16 in x 19 15/16 in (40.16 cm x 50.64 cm);18 1/8 in x 22 3/16 in (46.04 cm x 56.36 cm);13 1/8 in x 15 13/16 in (33.34 cm x 40.16 cm)

Credit Line
Gift of the Willard and Barbara Morgan Archives

Label copy
Born in Kansas, Barbara Morgan studied painting and printmaking at the University of California at Los Angeles before turning to photography in 1935. The following year, Morgan was commissioned by the Martha Graham Dance Company to photograph the company’s dancers, and Morgan’s images of Martha Graham are among her best known works.
Graham’s elongated proportions and gaunt features were perfectly suited to the expressive qualities of modern dance, and Morgan shot a number of iconic images of Graham dancing her famous work entitled Letter to the World. Her photographs were never of a live performance, but she worked with the dancers to recreate a dance in a setting where Morgan could control the lighting to maximum effect. Morgan described her aim in dance photography, saying “I am after that instant of combustion, when all the energies of the spirit are wonderfully coordinated with the action of the body. How to get that onto a negative!”
Carole McNamara, Assistant Director for Collections & Exhibitions
on the occasion of the exhibition New York Observed: The Mythology of the City
(July 13 – September 22, 2003)

Subject matter
Barbara Morgan moved from California to New York City in 1930. She began photographing Martha Graham in 1935 after seeing her perform, immediately introducing herself and beginning a collaboration. Morgan photographed Graham and her company in her studio, giving her more control over the images she produced. Themes in her work included dance, capturing gesture, and depicting crucial moments in sequences of movement. This photograph represents a still moment from Martha Graham's performance of Letter to the World, a ballet based on the love life of Emily Dickinson, named after her poem "This is My Letter to the World."

Physical Description
A photograph of a woman dancing. She wears a dress with flowing fabric, creating a sense of motion as she performs a jump.

Primary Object Classification

Collection Area

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cast shadows
costume (mode of fashion)
dance (discipline)
dances (performance events)
modern and contemporary art
movement (compositional concept)

6 Related Resources

(Part of 4 Learning Collections)
Photographic Portraiture 1900-1948
(Part of: Identity and Self-Understanding)
Quiz #1 Result: Forward Thinking
(Part of: Resources Made by Isabel Engel)

& Author Notes

All Rights Reserved