"Light is the shape and play of my thought.... my reason for being a photographer."
Barbara Brooks Morgan was born in Buffalo, KS in 1900. After WWI, Morgan trained as a painter at the University of California in Los Angeles. She then taught art at San Fernando, CA.
In 1925, she met and married writer/photographer Willard D. Morgan, who encouraged her to convert to photography, the medium he considered the real modern art of the 20th century. Shortly after, Morgan, who had returned UCLA to work, helped hang a show of Edward Weston's photographs at the university and began to see the artistic possibilities of photography. It was to have a profound influence on her.
In 1935, as her family responsibilities grew, leaving her less time for painting, photography became her principal medium. She spent the next five years in the studio photographing Martha Graham's dance company. Morgan's book of those images received the American Institute of Graphic Arts Trade Book Clinic Award. Photographing her subjects in only black and white, many of her best known images are portraits of dancers, children, and montages. Among the dancers she photographed, besides Martha Graham, are Jose Limon, Erick Hawkins, Anna Sokolow and Merce Cunningham. In 1941 she published her important book, "Martha Graham: Sixteen Dances in Photographs" and moved to Scarsdale, NY.
Martha Graham once described Morgan and her work: "This seems to me to be the essential greatness of Barbara Morgan's photographic images--initial honesty, tireless skill and reverence for life makes her essential greatness."
As an artist, Morgan immediately distanced herself from "pure photography" and began experimenting. With her camera, she explored the photographic medium through a wide range of methods such as montage, double exposure and extended time exposure. The resulting black-and-white prints Morgan produced in the 1930s and 1940s rank among the classic experiments of Modern American photographic art.
She was one of the small group, including Minor White, Ansel Adams, Dody Warren and Dorothea Lange who met in 1952 to found the magazine 'Aperture', and also one of the first photographers to have an issue of the magazine devoted to her work in 1964.
Retrospective shows were staged at Arizona State University and University of California, Berkeley in 1962. There were also exhibitions of her work at Marquette University, Brooks Memorial Union in 1977 and at the Haggerty Museum in 1988 and in 2004.
Her husband Willard died in 1967.
In 1975 she won a National Endowment for the Arts grant and in 1988 she was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Society of Magazine Photographers.
She died in North Tarrytown, NY in 1992.