Looking at Dance through a “Demonic Eye”: Visionary Photographer Barbara Morgan’s Archives Come Home to UCLA

One indelible image of modern dance icon Martha Graham performing Letter to the World ranks among the most famous dance photographs ever taken. It helped bring modern dance to the attention of the American people and established photographer Barbara Morgan (1900-92) as one who saw, in Graham’s words, “the inner landscape that is a dancer’s world.”

Barbara Morgan, Martha Graham, “Letter to the World”, 1940

“It is rare that even an inspired photographer possesses the demonic eye which can capture the instant of a dance and transform it into a timeless gesture,” Graham explained. “In Barbara Morgan I found this person.”

The archives of this visionary photographer have come home to UCLA, where Morgan studied art during 1919-23 and subsequently taught design, painting and printmaking. She began her career as a painter but embraced photography at the prompting of her husband, Willard, a photographer, writer, educator and curator. Another major influence was Edward Weston, whom she met at UCLA when installing an exhibition of his work.

The collection offers insight into Morgan’s artistic development and the concept that inspired all her works: the visual expression of movement and living energy. Its contents also trace the development of the Modernist movement in the U.S. through the Morgans’ friendships with other photographers, dancers, architects, artists and authors.

Read more in the UCLA Newsroom.