More Ballet

I recently took a Master Photography class with Martha Rial at Chautauqua Institution. The class was an inspiring motivation which concentrated on a photojournalism approach to telling a story. I did my assignment with the resident Chautauqua Summer Ballet, which is the Charlotte Ballet.

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I recently took a Master Photography class with Martha Rial at Chautauqua Institution. The class was an inspiring motivation which concentrated on a photojournalism approach to telling a story. I did my assignment with the resident Chautauqua Summer Ballet, which is the Charlotte Ballet. Martha reviewed some of my images & suggested I shoot wider to tell more of the story & zoom with my feet. My interpretation was to work with 85,40 & 26 prime lenses. I knew the background & lighting were going to be far from pristine but I accepted that as part of photojournalism guidelines.

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In Cuba I had a few hours to shoot ballet.  At The Chautauqua School of Dance I had 3 days of opportunities & everybody spoke English. However, listening to dancers learning a new work in class, their jargon was as foreign as Spanish. They rehearsed with Chautauqua Orchestra & performed a tribute to the retiring artistic director on the newly rebuilt stage/amphitheater. I had GREAT collaboration with the staff & the dancers. The “story” for my assignment evolved into an understated look at change & how the show goes on.

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I had some satisfaction/success in Cuba with low shots & I explored that perspective even further by being closer & wider. Including the background dancers mirroring the primary subject adds another layer to the image I find absorbing. Instead of fighting a losing battle with lights I tried to be “in the moment” as Martha suggested & ignored the florescent lights. For me, the best part of the 5 day class was the interactive critique.

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I was impressed with Mark Diamonds style of choreographing the routines. He spoke in a soft voice forcing quiet with students & capturing their attention. The pace the dancers were taught & coached was faster than I expected. During the condensed summer season the turn-around between performances is sometimes less than a week. Collaboration within the company was reflective of their professionalism & attempts of perfection.

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For dancers it is all about the form & the purity of the line. As a photographer I want to capture those elements but I also want lighting & background to enhance them. Since I had no control of either of those elements I needed to react to the activity as it was happening. In this shot I captured the dancer with an interesting positioning of students in the background. At least the fluorescent lamps were close in color & relatively even.

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Sarah Hayes Harkins is a principle dancer in the Charlotte Ballet. She has been with the company for over 9 years.  When I saw her massaging her quads with a roller I immediately recognized the similarities to the way other athletes train & condition their muscles. Dancers have a remarkable harmony between the power & tone in their legs, shoulders back, arms & even their neck. If you think ballerinas are delicate think again. They are superbly conditioned athletes.

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I’m not sure if he would agree but I think I captured the moment of his leap. I even had some better lighting as they rehearsed on the stage. For my class we were to do minimal cropping & for most of the images in my presentation I did as I was told. However, for my blog & other presentations I find cropping to emphasize the subject is a very powerful technique. During class we discussed where the line is photojournalism shouldn’t cross with respect to editing. I got a better perspective of when I would enhance an image with Photoshop. I now need to work on better use of PS tools.

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Although wider shots fit the adage of showing the whole dancer, every now & then I’d see a frame that wasn’t head to toe.  I never thought just one extended arm in the frame would be a good shot until I saw this. Sarah Lapointe has her focus on the mirror as she examines her form. Capturing an expression in relationship to a pose can be dramatic. Her concentration & expression are clues to her personality. For my blog posting of this shot I stepped over the line of photojournalism by eliminating background distractions and inserting a gradient. I recognize my PS skills need improvement. However, this is closer to the style of image that motives me to shoot dancers.

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I spent time further exploring the added dimension of the mirror. This shot was a major improvement from the mirror shot in my last blog post from Cuba. One of the great things about photographing the dancers is that they almost never made eye contact with me. I was as close to being a fly on the wall as I have ever experienced.

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The low angle adds emphasis to the height of the dancers. The symmetry of their form & line fills the frame. Given the results of shooting low & wide, if I get the opportunity to shoot more dance I will search for methods to be low on the ground that don’t aggravate my old knees.

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I anticipated this classic pose during afternoon rehearsal. As they were rehearsing with a live orchestra I found myself guided by the music as to when to expect moments like this. I have become more comfortable with square framing in post-production. When I snapped the shutter I knew I would crop it into a square. I also found off angle positions to be more interesting than straight on from the center of the stage.

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This is definitely not part of the dancers routine. However, this shot makes the dancers more human & adds depth to the story. Even as they leave the stage after a grueling rehearsal they are still in step. I was satisfied with the presentation I did for my class. I felt improvement in my ability to capture “the moment” of the dancers. I would highly recommend a workshop to photogs that want to expand their skills. This class was not as intensive as most & it was also far less expensive.

Humans of Cuba

My goal in Cuba was to meet & photograph people. Not only was it successful, but also I found Cubans to be some of the friendliest people I’ve ever encountered.

01-copyMy goal in Cuba was to meet & photograph people. Not only was it successful, but also I found Cubans to be some of the friendliest people I’ve ever encountered. On a tour thru a museum  in Camaguay I saw this young woman sitting beside an open window. Her natural beauty was accented with wonderful Tropical Sunlight. Despite the lack of a common language she easily understood how I wanted her to pose with the fan, the angle of her face & the tilt of her chin. The smile is all hers. No direction was needed.

02 I was observing workers & taking pictures not noticing I was standing beside a mud puddle. As I stepped to the side for a slightly better angle my foot went into the mud. Another group of workers had a great laugh at my mistake & I joined them in laughing at my miscue. One of the young men got a bucket of water for me to clean my foot. Soon we were all sitting around having some Havana Club & connecting with minimal vocabularies & collective pantomime. I learned these 2 were a father & son working to put a roof on the young mans grandparents home. The others were friends who were helping. Soon I was warmly welcomed into the “Familia”.

03My guide & interpreter Lidier was an unbelievable asset. He got me into a rehearsal for the Camaguey Ballet.  Showing respect for their space & work I was given almost unlimited access to incredible dancers. This was my 1st opportunity to capture the strength, beauty, grace & precision of this art. In a short period of time I learned a lot.  Hopefully I will get a chance to capture more ballet images in the future.

03aAlmost everywhere I went I saw piles of stone, sand & lime waiting to be mixed with cement & water for repair or new construction. Even with the proper tools this is hard work. Workers I saw lacked the simple equipment we take for granted. This particular crew only had 1 wheelbarrow so large buckets were used to move the sand. In Cuba where almost everything is built from concrete, strength & determination may be the most valuable tools a worker can depend on.

04The Valley of Sugar Mills outside of Trinidad had Spanish Plantations from the 1800’s in various stages of restoration. Next to one was a simple concrete home & small farm where a husband & wife lived. They showed me their display of slavery artifacts they had uncovered & welcomed me into their modest home. As we were leaving, she took a casual pose leaning against the door frame. The only distraction from her warm smile was the tropical colors of her eyes.

05On the tobacco farm of the Camejo family, Sergio was describing the work necessary to raise plants. One of the farm hands walked over & interrupted saying “When you are the bosses son you just tell others to do the hard work.” Sergio replied he “dreamed someday of having his friends job so he could wander around the fields all day.” The camaraderie & mutual respect they had for each other was evident in the joking banter they engaged in.

06The smile of a young child reaches my heart. Add a head full of curly hair, eyes filled with innocent joy & the results are an image igniting delightful memories in any parent’s soul.

07Wandering thru the old cities offered a different layer to “Street Photography”. The massive open windows & doors revealed environments inside but were an adjunct of street activity. I came across a math tutor working with students after school in a small room with a blackboard a few desks. No calculator in sight. In Cuba, they have universities specifically for teachers & it is considered a noble profession.

08When I approached people I randomly met on the street to take their picture, I made sure I had a smile on my face. In almost every interaction I was rewarded with an amplified expression of delight. Sharing the image I had captured with the people resulted in more than a few hugs.

09For some reason my eye is drawn to people on their phones as a subject to photograph. Many of the plazas in cities are Wi-Fi hot spots where Cubans & tourists go to get on the web. In these beautiful plazas where not that long ago people gathered to socialize with each other I found most with their heads tilted down & eyes glued to digital pacifiers. I’m not sure if this woman is a tourist or a native. Her long lean body in visual harmony with the light post really caught my eye.

10It took a while to get used to the ironwork on the substantial old & weathered wooden doors & windows in these centuries old cities. The craftsmanship is impressive. Residents would sit near the windows & carry on conversations with those passing by or sometimes just say hola.

11The pace of the day is one of the most significant differences I experienced. In a society where there is a need for activities to pass time, Dominoes is a wonderful diversion & a part of the social fabric of the Cuban culture. Few from this mans generation had many options to fill their day. It may also be why the slow game of Baseball is so popular here.

12This is one of the few sour faces I saw. Even with a pout this young man on his way to school brought a smile to my face.