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Martha Graham, “American Document” (Starburst) (work of art)

Artwork Info

1938, printed later
13 3/8 x 17 13/16 inches (34.0 x 45.2 centimeters)


Gift of Richard and Lois Zakia

Object Number

Key Ideas

  • This is a photograph of three dancers from the Martha Graham Dance Company. The dancers are Sophie Maslow, Frieda Flier, and Marjorie Mazia. They are captured performing a mid-air leap away from each other.
  • Photographer Barbara Morgan used the contrast between light and dark to draw attention to the movement and form of the dancers.
  • Photographing a moving dancer requires patience and constant attention to detail. 
  • Martha Graham is known as the mother of American modern dance. Her unique dance technique encouraged dancers to bring their individual experiences and emotions to their movements. 
  • Morgan often photographed dancers in action, to capture the emotion behind their movement. Her artistic style was similar to Graham’s philosophy of dance.

Learn More

Barbara Morgan is known for her creative contributions to both dance and visual art. In 1935 Morgan saw a performance by Martha Graham, who was a modern dancer and choreographer. At that time they were both beginning their artistic careers. Morgan was so inspired by the dance performance that she introduced herself to Graham, and the two artists agreed to work together on creative projects. This was the beginning of an artistic collaboration that lasted more than 60 years. 

Morgan was commissioned by the Martha Graham Dance Company to photograph dancers in motion. She created the photographs of the dancers over a span of five years, from 1935 through 1940. In this photograph she captured three dancers in a mid-air leap, creating a sense of movement that seems to extend beyond the photograph.

“The most difficult, but also the most creative and exciting, part of dance photography is not so much the eventual picture as the groping and shaping toward a conception of what the picture ought to be.”

Barbara Morgan

Additional Resources

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Resources for Students:


  • A black-and-white photograph of three dancers wearing long white skirts. The three women are in mid-air, leaping away from each other with their arms extended upward.

    Martha Graham, “American Document” (Starburst)