Avant-Exposure #1: Barbara Morgan’s Photo “Martha Graham, Celebration Trio”

This is yet another series I will contiune with, focusing entirely on the creative combination of photography and dance. I will post a photo I greatly respect and admire while writing a few words on the history, composition, or influence of the photo.

 “To epitomize…a dance with camera, stage performances are inadequate, because in that situation one can only fortuitously record. For my interpretation it was necessary to redirect, relight, and photographically synthesize what I felt to be the core of the total dance.”

Barbara Morgan

This simple photo of three Martha Graham dancers in mid-hop contains worlds of history between dance and photography. American photographer Barbara Morgan became a large piece to the puzzle of American modern dance with her photographic explorations on movement and dancers in the mid-twentieth century.

Barbara Morgan began photographing Graham and her company in 1935. With her initial background in painting, her photos helped expand the dynamic significance of modern dance to the rest of the art world. Morgan’s collection of Graham photographs, “Martha Graham: Sixteen Dances in Photographs”, is on my list as one of the most sought after books I am hunting for. (I found it once at a Half Price and foolishly did not buy it, so as punishment I am limiting myself to only looking for it in Half Prices).

Morgan worked closely with other important modern dance icons such as Erick Hawkins, Merce Cunningham, Pearl Primus, Doris Humphrey, and Jose Limon. Each of her photographs represented the mood and atmosphere of dance during the twentieth century, but it is with her work with Graham that I feel the exact electricity of the moment. That was her ultimate gift to dance, her rise out of her own world and into modern dance. She realized the importance of modern dance movers like Martha Graham and forged a lasting bond to the world of dance. Her photos are pinned to the pages of all of our dance history books that mention the start of modern dance in America, and I’m very proud that I can link her name and her personal life to the photos in the books.

“Celebration Trio” has a specific buzz of poignant delight; you can hear the dancers sigh to the sky with each other as they stretch their feet and legs up off of the ground below. I love this photo, and I think it is a cherished work of art that the entire art world can admire and examine for generations. The longevity of the first modern dance moments is possible thanks to key photographers, such as Barbara Morgan, who were willing to bring their true artistic qualities to dance photography.

For more on Barbara Morgan:



Morgan’s Book on Graham:




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