Barbara Morgan: American photomontage pioneer

Barbara Morgan, co-founder of Aperture magazine and best known for her photographs of modern dancers, is credited with being the first American artist to employ the photomontage technique.

Morgan was particularly interested in how this genre of photography allowed the artist to capture multiple facets of modern life on a single plane. Her montage work is mostly concerned with social themes and natural versus constructed environments.

Hearst Over the People 1939, Gelatin silver print
Hearst Over the People 1939, Gelatin silver print

In the above work, newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst’s face is placed on the body of a giant octopus. He is shown extending his tentacles over the masses of New York, similar to the way he controlled a vast amount of the journalism industry at the time.


Spring on Madison Square 1938, gelatin silver print
Spring on Madison Square 1938, gelatin silver print

In Spring on Madison Square, Morgan superimposes a photograph of the dancer Eric Hawkins and photograms of flowers. One can note the juxtaposition of a wintry day in Madison Square and the flowers of spring, as paralleled by the gestures of the dancer’s arms.


Rather than a collage of many photographs, Morgan’s pieces usually include just a few elements – drastically different to the work of artists like David Hockney. However, each element that she works with has profound meaning and is rarely presented for solely aesthetic reasons.

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