Label Text: The image of Martha Graham in her 1940 ballet, "Letter to the World," is among Barbara Morgan's finest images and arguably the most famous dance photograph of the twentieth century. The premiere of Graham's important "Letter to the World" took place on 11 August 1940, at the Bennington College Theater in Vermont. Martha Graham, Erick Hawkins, Merce Cunningham, and Jane Dudley were the original performers. The ballet was accompanied by the spoken poetry of Emily Dickinson; the title of the ballet is taken from a Dickinson poem which begins, "This is my letter to the World/That never wrote to Me..."
This image was not made at a performance of the live ballet; rather, the photograph was taken in one fo the studio spaces used by Morgan in New York City. It was Morgan's custom to attend repeated rehearsals and performances of the dances she planned to photograph, and watch for significant moments that she would later re-create in a studio setting. In collaboration with the dancers, most especially Graham herself, Morgan would discuss the choreography, music, and philosophy behind each ballet, then focus on a small group of movements that would represent the essence of the work as a whole. Morgan called these selected moments of action "instants of combustion."
The legacy of Martha Graham in dance of the twentieth century is without parallel. Even those who have never seen a Graham ballet, however, are familiar with her work through Morgan's photograph. In its perfection of lighting, its deft capture of the floating costume, and its evocation of Graham's arrested, fluid motion, the photograph has become synonymous with not only "Letter to the World," but also with the world of modern dance.