Monday, 18 June 2012

Postcards for a Dancer

The LeapThere is something magical about dancing. I think it is encoded in our DNA that we respond to music by moving our bodies to a beat. Certainly when processing images, I always listen to music. I always need something with a strong, driven beat. And I move. My body is always moving to the beat. So I guess I always “dance” when working on my images.

Not surprisingly, I have always wanted to take photographs of dancers. Not only are they creative artists in their own right and able to contribute to the process, there is also the challenge of creating a static image of a dynamic subject.

Instead of the images that place the dancer in a studio or on a stage, my vision is to place the dancer in the outdoor environment most of us encounter daily. This is more in keeping with my thought that dance is an intrinsic part of who we are as a species.

This entry, a follow up to my post Dancer Kickstart, is about photographing a dancer over a one-week period to create some Postcards for both of us.

That I had only a week for this project made for a creative challenge. There were days when the voices in my head were very loud and insistent on images that had to be made. There were other days when they were muted and not so helpful. Since time was limited, I had to press on, no matter how inspired I felt (or didn’t feel).

I think the time challenge actually helped the creative process. I have a tendency to linger while taking photographs. I like to explore every path, every idea. The crunch of a shooting deadline forced me to quickly reject ideas that were not going anywhere. As a result, I covered more concepts than I normally would have.

Seth and Gay of Live Art Dance put me in touch with Stephanie Mitro. Stephanie is a dancer from Toronto, with a focus in contemporary, jazz, ballet, modern, and hip-hop dance. She has been dancing since the age of three, competing around Ontario and the United States.

Stephanie

Stephanie graduated from Ryerson University with a BFA degree in Theatre Performance Dance. She has had the opportunity to work with people such as Tiffany McLean, Vicki Adams Willis, Marty Kudelka, Dee Caspry, and Mandy Moore. She has experience in the commercial and industrial dance field as well.

As a choreographer, her work has been presented in Choreographic Works, 2006, 2007, 2008, New Voices 2008 (Ryerson University), and many studios, workshops and smaller festivals throughout the Greater Toronto Area as well as across Canada.

Stephanie recently co-founded a Halifax-based dance company called Votive Dance. In case you are wondering, as I was, a votive dance is a ritual dance performed or sponsored by an individual in fulfilment of a vow to a supernatural being. The dance company, Votive Dance, hopes to provide both performance & choreographic opportunities for local dance artists.

Stephanie was a joy to work with. She was very patient as I struggled to resolve composition or lighting issues. This meant standing around in the cold for long periods of time, as you can see in the above image. She was also able to take vague and poorly communicated instruction on what I was looking for and come up with her own idea for a pose or a movement. For that, I thank her. These images are as much about her patience, perseverance, and creativeness as they are about my own.


The Leap
While we are a tiny part of our world, we have a huge impact. I try to convey that idea with this framing of Stephanie on the rocks at Peggy’s Cove. While she is only a small piece of the composition, her leap is the most powerful part of the image.

The Leap

A larger version of the image is here in my gallery.


The Stretch
Stephanie works in a downtown shopping centre. I was in the shopping center’s parking lot when I noticed how the guardrails resembled the barre, which ballet dancers use to stretch. I asked Stephanie to stretch on the rail as if it was a barre.

The Stretch

A larger version of the image is here in my gallery.


Stepping Off
This image was created in the Halifax Public Gardens. It was a dreary, cold, overcast day with on-and-off rain. For that reason, I decided to shoot near the garden, where we could be close to the car. I was concerned about Stephanie getting wet and cold and I wanted to have the car handy should we need to retreat quickly in the event of a downpour.

The upside of the day’s weather was that there were very few people in the park, so we could use long sight lines, such as this row of benches. Stephanie was full of energy, and it seemed only natural to ask her to step off one of the benches. My task was to time the capture properly.

Stepping Off

A larger version of the image is here in my gallery.


Tuck
We had just completed a shot and were on our way back to the car when I saw this fence. I noticed the structure of the lines: angled in the foreground, horizontal in the main, and vertical in the background. I wanted to place Stephanie in the midst of all of this structure, much like a dancer places herself in the structure of a beat, so I asked her to hang from the fence in a tuck.

Tuck

A larger version of the image is here in my gallery.


Bad Weather
Much of the week of our shoot was very windy and full of RDF, which translates from Newfoundland speak into English, as rain, drizzle, and fog. We could have packed it in and waited for the good weather Environment Canada was promising for later in the week, but this was the staple weather of my childhood. Instead, we decided to confront the weather head on. Dance, and photography, takes on all comers!

Bad Weather

A larger version of the image is here in my gallery.

Edit: My friend Maurizio pushed me to consider using my original crop on this image instead of the one I first posted. When I finally had a chance to sit down and look at this image again, I decided he was quite right: this simpler composition without the dark edge of the wharf in the distance is much better. So I am back to this image and will be using it in the folio. I thank Maurizio for prodding me to reconsider. It goes to show that you can over think a composition. For those interested, the older version of the image is here on Flickr.


Into the Sunset
A high-pressure system brought us much better weather for the rest of the week, so it was off to Peggy's Cove to shoot on the rocks. As the high blew in, the winds were quite high. I remarked to Stephanie that I love the wind, that it is part of my Newfoundland soul. Out on the rocks next to the ocean, the wind speaks to the core of my being. Stephanie turned into the setting sun, the wind blowing her hair back, and I could see that it spoke to her soul as well.

Into The Sunset

A larger version of the image is here in my gallery.


Into the Beat
With this image, I mark a shift from the world of monochrome into that of colour. During one of our daily review sessions, Stephanie remarked that many of the images worked just as well in colour as they did in black and white. Our session on the rocks of Peggy's Cove was no exception.

As Stephanie shifted her pose from my previous image, I could see a change come over her. It was if she went from feeling the wind on her face to feeling the beat of her heart. She is a dancer, after all.

Into the Sunset

A larger version of the image is here in my gallery.


The Tunnel
Another spate of bad weather set in again and we sought shelter in a pedestrian tunnel for our shoot. The tunnel was near the container port and not surprisingly, there was some wonderful graffiti artwork on the walls. I wanted to use the graffiti in a composition that contrasted the artwork of the painters with the artwork of the dancer.

The Tunnel

A larger version of the image is here in my gallery.


Railways transport food that feeds our bodies. Art transports ideas that feed our souls.

I had been eyeing the rails that pass through the south-end neighbourhoods of Halifax for some time, thinking of ways to incorporate them into our shoot. However, the rails are set into a deep gorge, making them difficult to get to. One afternoon, we found a relatively easy way to get down to the rails and were able to create a series of images that made the effort worthwhile. These next three images (Tracks 1 , Tracks 2, and Balance) are the fruits of that afternoon's labours.

Tracks 1
I wanted the railway line to fade into the distance. From our position, the rail curved off to the right, allowing me to also create a wall of trees for the background. I asked Stephanie to create a pose with "lots of visual volume" and she quickly came up with this.

Tracks 1

A larger version of the image is here in my gallery.


Tracks 3
I wanted to create a very visually simple shot of Stephanie and the rail line. Going overhead seemed to be the easiest way to create what I was looking for, which was a composition that said "no matter if you are coming or going, it's about dance".

Tracks 3

A larger version of the image is here in my gallery.


Balance
After going through a couple of compositions we decided to try one using the rail as a balance beam. I preferred to keep the imagery of the rail fading into the background using the same perspective of Tracks1, and a very, very tight depth of field to highlight Stephanie.

Balance

A larger version of this image is here in my gallery.


The Stairs
Very early on in this project, Stephanie and I decided to take a walkabout approach. That is, we would wander about with no set plan other than just looking for locations that spoke to us.

One day as we were passing Citadel Hill, a set of concrete steps caught my attention. They just appeared out of nowhere and looked very much out of place, but I loved their texture and tones. I knew they would make for a great black and white image. However, I didn't imagine that they would also make for such a powerful colour shot.

As this project developed, I could see the influence of my preconception of the idea of dance being represented by a ballerina (more on that a bit later in this post). In this case, I wanted to get a shot of Stephanie in that classic ballerina pose en pointe. The framing of the steps and trees is, for me, a great way to portray a ballerina away from the stage and out in the everyday environment.

The Stairs

A larger version of this image is here in my gallery.


An Addition - Leap
This image is my favourite from the project. It shows a dancer doing what she loves and she is dancing for an audience on a natural stage, much like I imagine we first danced eons ago.

The image also presents the evolution in my thinking about representing the idea of dance. Early on I struggled with how to portray a dancer and not a gymnast. I quickly resorted to using a tutu and classic ballerina poses as visual props to unequivocally communicate that my subject was a dancer.

As the project progressed, I wanted to find a way to communicate dance without resorting to using those cliches. After all, when we as a species first danced, there were no tutus or en pointe shoes. I think I achieved that with this image.

The Leap

A larger version of this image is here in my gallery.

I have not (yet) included this image in the folio because I have not yet printed it. I need to see the image printed before I am certain it is of a high enough quality to be included in a folio. Unlike a computer screen, a print reveals all! When the time came to print, I had run out of ink. Since this is a very simple image, I do not foresee any issues with making a print and just as soon as I have one, I will include this image in the folio. I will post an update here and on my Facebook page when I have it done.


Size Matters - Tracks 4
While working with Stephanie on the rail line I created this image of her as a small portion of the environment. This is very much in keeping with how I wanted the composition, not what I had in the image Tracks 3 above. However, size does matter and this composition does not work on the small form factor of a computer screen, nor does it work on a small 7" printed image. Where is does work is on a giant print hanging on a wall. This allows you to see all of the fine detail and properly appreciate Stephanie in the entire composition. In Tracks 3, I had to tighten up the composition significantly in order for the image to be useable with small media.

Tracks 4

A larger version of this image is here in Flickr.


Folio: Postcards for a Dancer
This project doesn't end here. While Stephanie and I wanted to create images for our portfolios, they are also available to others as a collection of 12 signed prints packaged in a folio. The proceeds go to Stephanie's dance company, Votive Dance. By the way, my definition of "proceeds" is simple: it is the price less my costs.

These prints are suitable for framing and hanging on wall in your office or home. They also make for a great conversation piece on your coffee table. If you know someone involved in dance, or someone who loves to dance, the folio makes a fabulous gift.

I created the initial images using a Nikon D3x, one of the sharpest digital SLR’s on the market today. For lenses, I used either a Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED or Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II. Both of these lenses use special, extra-low dispersion glass (hence the “ED” tag) and are well suited to match with the D3x for producing extremely high quality images.

I print these images on 8.5” by 11” paper (21 cm by 28 cm), which is Canadian “letter sized”. The images are approximately 7” (18 cm) on the longest edge.

I use Galerie Gold Fibre Silk 310 g/m2 , a traditional baryta archival photo paper. My ink is Ultrachrome K3 archival pigment ink.

The folio information pages are printed on Southworth parchment 90 g/m2 archival paper. The folio cover is Royal Complements 100 lb. acid and lignin free paper manufactured with 30% recycled post consumer fibre. The paper is also Green Seal™ and Forest Stewardship Council certified. The mat board is acid and lignin free. The paper on the face, core, and backing is made from 100% virgin alpha cellulose.

You can learn more about my folios (and order Postcards for a Dancer) here on my website.

The price of the folio is $99 CAD and includes shipping. The proceeds to Votive Dance are about $30 per folio. I am now taking orders for shipment in September. You can order now from the folio page, or, by clicking on the PayPal button below.







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