Dance photography began as a recording device to mark dancers and dance works in history, capturing the treasured moments and acting as a preservation tool for choreographers’ work. As dance as an art form developed and choreographers began moving beyond the boundaries of classical ballet in its traditional form photographers have began to experiment with the creativity of dance photography and exploring the many possibilities at their fingertips.
As more dance photographers experiment with their technical skill and creativity the demand for more dramatic, edgy and seemingly impossible images is growing.
American dance photographer Lois Greenfield has developed a fascination for capturing moments the eye cannot see and in Australian Dance Theatre’s Held her collaboration with Garry Stewart demonstrate this live on stage.
The nature of Stewart’s choreography is fast, daring and highly physical and Greenfield crouches at the front of the stage taking photographs that appear on huge screens on stage seconds after they have been taken. Each new image captures a split second of the movement; dancers in mid air with limbs and hair flailing dramatically. The moment at which the button is pressed and the image captured is often a point within the movement that the human eye cannot perceive. Within that image the photographer has stopped time, and the split second captured is one that we would not have seen otherwise.
The beauty of dance photography is that a split second of clarity can pause the dance producing a crisp image, whilst on the other hand a photograph taken at a slower speed produces an image, which plays tricks on the eye as you can see the movement taking place. Greenfield uses special affects at various points throughout the work and whilst at some points we see a crisp image there are moments where the photograph captures a ghost image of the movement pathway.
With the introduction of new technology in more recent years the possibilities are almost endless and experimenting with movement is more fascinating than ever. However, despite technological advances, the basic craft of photography remains the same and whilst there are elements of photography that have been made easier the skills required lie in instinct and anticipation. In dance photography there is no time to view the action and then take the photograph as the dancer would have moved again by the time the photo is taken.
Greenfield graduated to work as a journalist photographer and when she was assigned to work at a dance concert her experience of photographing movement was limited. Through experience she gained the skills necessary to photograph unpredictable movement and constantly changing lighting conditions and at the same time gained a fascination for dance as a subject matter. After years of practice in rehearsals and performance Greenfield began to experiment in a studio, controlling the dancers and using their bodies as compositional elements. She experimented with bodies flying through space using the frame of the photograph to crop the image.
It is these kind of abstract compositions that can been seen in ADT’s Held offering the audience the chance to see moments in time that they would have been sure to miss otherwise.
This takes dance photography a step further, and it is emerged in the artistry of choreography. On this new level dance photography is no longer just a historical record or editorial tool but an art form in its own right. The use of photography in Held provides another layer to the choreography and offers a new way of looking at dance.