Athletic Artists

Integrating movement & emotion with music is how dancers turn their athleticism into art.

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet
Led by Light
Choreography & Costumes by Maria Caruso
Music by Zoe Keating
L to R – Principal Artists Kaylin Treese & Bethany Schimonsky

The foundation of my interest in dance goes back to the 1st time I saw West Side Story on TV circa 1966. Over the years my primary exposure to this art form was via cinema. Later, musical theater gave another venue to experience talented artists in live story telling. On stage or on camera, dance is a very powerful & memorable component of entertainment.

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet
Intimate Liaisons
Choreography & Costumes Maria Caruso
Music by Kronos Quartet
Top to Bottom Principal Artists Kaylin Treese & Nicole Ivan

In ‘02 I saw the Alvin Ailey Company perform their signature work Revelations. The overwhelming emotional power of that performance impacted me in a way no other production has ever done. It motivated me to explore the world of dance beyond the supporting role it had in film & musicals.

Christina Lindhout Verb Ballet Cleveland

Even though dance is best suited to the stage or the screen, as I got back into photography I realized that still images of dancers are dramatically powerful & beautiful.  I also recognized that capturing those decisive moments was extremely challenging.

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet
  Mother’s Prism
Choreography & Costumes by Maria Caruso
Music by Arnald Olafur & Dustin O’Halloran
Principal Ambassador Artist Amanda Fisher

To try to learn more about what I considered good dance photos I looked at thousands of images to establish ground rules for pictures I liked. Lighting, form within the frame, costume, environment, foreground, background, expressions & occasionally shadows were important. I also was determined to always be head to toe. Recent dance films or shows feel the need to cut away from the dancing. Show me see the dancers dancing!

Christina Lindhout Verb Ballet Cleveland

In reviewing so many images I soon discovered that not unlike accomplished sports figures, the dancers muscle tone/tension highlighted an athleticism that in my mind’s eye had been subtle. The lighting & costumes are the most critical factors in capturing this detail revealing the unseen elements of power & strength. The images I liked best made great use of theatrical, studio or natural light & fashion.

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet
Led by Light
Choreography & Costumes by Maria Caruso
Music by Zoe Keating
L to R – Principal Artists Bethany Schimonsky & Kaylin Treese

I recognized that unlike those that compete in sports, dancers are athletes that create art with their athleticism. For me, this was a new perspective of how their talents are perceived.  Blending this with the ability to layer emotions onto their movements elevates the viewer’s connection to the drama. Capturing that moment on a still camera is an ongoing challenge I find rewarding.

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet
Vespers
Choreography and Costumes by Maria Caruso
Music by Aix Em Klemm
From Left to Right – Company Artist Derrick Izumi and Founding Director Maria Caruso

Head to toe is usually the best way to see the complete visual story. The space around the dancers is critical to emphasizing the form. I also prefer an odd number of dancers providing asymmetrical balance. However, two dancers can provide a balance I like. Also, I can crop tighter than head to toe to create a better image. I made those rules so I can break them!

Christina Lindhout Verb Ballet Cleveland

With almost any image, red can be a dramatic addition if not overwhelming. Beyond that my “fashion” opinion is shallow. I quickly recognized that for me controlled lighting had the most impact on images that inspired me. Moving into a position for strong backlight helped to provide the silhouetted form of her legs.

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet
Life Force
Choreography and Costume by Maria Caruso
Music by Garth Stevenson
Founding Director Maria Caruso

One of my biggest peeves is the unavoidable horizons in photos of stage performances. While stage lighting is often less than perfect from a photography perspective I recognized that environment & look is part of the visual story. Also, don’t sweat things you can’t control. In my mind’s eye the black stripe across the lower third of this image adds strength to the base of the picture. The consistency of the lighting in this performance was a big plus.

Christina Lindhout Verb Ballet Cleveland

During my initial exploration of dance photography the leaps & jumps with the dancer suspended in midair caught my eyes. While this type of image is indeed sensational, I found that it could easily become unimaginative. I do like non-traditional locations of dancers. Photos showcasing the talent of these artists outside of the rehearsal studio & off the stage add drama.

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet
Really?!
Choreography and Costumes by Maria Caruso
Music by Quixotic
Principal Artist Nicole Ivan

As I am learning, it is crucial to the dancers that all of the details of their lines are precise. I am extremely grateful for the critique & education that Maria Caruso Founding Director of Bodigraphy has given me. I have photographer eyes & she is helping me understand dancer’s eyes. Having respect of the dancers perspective & approval of my images is critical. Details are extremely important!

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet
Rehearsal of Billboards
Choreography and Costume by Maria Caruso
Principal Artist Nicole Jamison

In addition to her personal review of my images Maria Caruso has allowed me to shoot a rehearsal at her studio & a live performance. Without getting to geeky…the low light sensitivity of the camera sensors along with a new software programs are wonderful tools.  Since I got camera geeky I will get history geeky. Bodiography’s studio is Gene Kelley’s old studio!

Christina Lindhout Verb Ballet Cleveland

In my quest for doing more/better dance photography I signed up for a workshop entitled Dancing in the Dark. I looked forward to an opportunity for some control of lighting & more direct input to the dancers posing & movement. Unfortunately I was disappointed with the way the lighting was handled & less than thrilled with the locations. On the positive side Christina Lindhout of Verb Ballet was a very easy model to work with. I appreciated the way she could very subtlety change her form while understanding what myself & others photogs were trying to capture.

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet
Rehearsal of Mother’s Prism
Choreography and Costumes by Maria Caruso
From Top to Bottom – Principal Artist Kaylin Treese and Principal Ambassador Artist Melissa Tyler

I’m extremely grateful for the support & opportunities Maria Caruso Founding Director of Bodiographics has provided. It is likely in the near future I will do a photography workshop with a recognized dance photographer. (Work I enjoy the most is predominately from Eastern Europe & naturally St. Petersburg Russia.)

My heartfelt thanks to Amanda, Bethany, Christina, Derrick, Kaylin, Maria, Melissa, Nicole & all the talented dancers at Bodiography Contemporary Ballet. I believe everyone dreams they could do what you do!

Symbolic Portraiture

Michael Fratangelo creates a compelling style with his painting.

I was honored to be welcomed into the studio of an artist to discuss his process & document his technique. People who whet their skills, persistence, talent & technique to create art define their own space. It is a place to be respected. Alone in a building on the third floor the work Michael Fratangelo does in his studio is primarily at night. Maybe Quincy Jones was on to something when he said “The muse come out at night.”

I first saw his work at Ketchup City Creative.  This powerful series was recognized & exhibited in Europe. The subject of the paintings was the War in Iraq. The series reflected photos from the NYT. I was taken back by the size of the paintings some as large as 6’ by 8’. My eyes welcomed the pallet of colors.  His style is such that the oil-on-canvas is thick & chunky giving an added element of form.  I was intrigued by how he defines his Symbolic Portraits. I was preparing my own Portraiture themed gallery show & his work was an unexpected perspective into defining a portrait. Classic portraits of people are not what he produces. The work I saw in his brochure gave me new eyes. Boldly, I asked if I could visit his studio to document his work.

My minds eye of a painter’s space is not what I found. From a photographers perspective the lighting was mixed & poorly distributed. Working at night the windows provided no source of naturally soft light. Mirror like, they only reflected glares. The primary light was florescent & he used 2 thrift-store-rejected pole lamps for the work in front of him. I quickly realized all Michael needed was illumination! The work was coming from his mind to his hands. Watching him work I began to understand his comment “Painting is stronger than me. It makes me do what it wants”. This is a place where the muse may visit.

 I’m not an art critic & lack their classic adjectives, adverbs & education to describe paintings. I can say that visually his paintings have strength. Since it is Michael’s work I accept his description of “using symbolism to create spiritually guided portraits”. Adjusting the viewer’s awareness to a different type of portrait resonated with me.

Some artists make sketches or drafts that play an important role in their work. For Michael, a critical step is interviewing & understand the person. What he learns becomes layers in the painting he creates. A common topic includes mentors & individuals that have inspired. Family snapshots showing decades of change in the person hang on the wall alongside of where he works. The favorite food in somebodies life can sneak into the symbolism coming from his brushes. The colors & forms Michael sees are a part of the spiritual aspects of the people he paints.

Allen Levine, who Michael has known for years, commissioned the project I photographed. Allen is an outgoing person with passion for sports. He hosts a local talk show calling himself the Talking Machine. The symbolism in his portrait reveals his character with forms & color from Michael.

Michael never started out to be an artist coming close to never recognizing his gift. As a student he was adrift. During our conversations he frequently discussed how John Bowman, one of his professors at Penn State, encouraged him to develop his own voice on the canvas using his intuitive sense of color. After that, he avoided academic probation & was on a path to understanding & developing his talent.

Michael has confidence he is where he needs to be with his art. His role as a Middle School teacher “inspiring his students to simply avoid being afraid to be creative” is part of his personality. He recognizes the value of ingenuity across all learning. Having found his talent he looks to help others discover theirs.  This provides motivation outside the studio. As a member of the board of Penn State’s College of Art & Architecture he gives back to the place where he found his gift.

I asked what artists inspired him. Of particular interest were sculptors Henry Moore from Britain & Michelangelo Buonarroti of Italy. I found it somewhat odd that sculptors influenced a painter working in a 2 dimensional medium until I researched their work. Both had a mystical view of their work, that the sculptors already lay in the marble they were uncovering. Michael considers himself more of a sculptor than a painter. Instead of using hammer chisel & stone, Michael has a similar belief he is uncovering his work like the sculptors but with brush, palette knife & oil paint.

 Michael daringly describes himself as a visionary artist. With early international recognition of his style, he now is earning commissions for his unique portraits. I do not doubt that his work may reach a new level. For now, he continues to produce his dynamic colorful symbolic portraits while trying to put a dent in the universe.

This new blog format I am using will allow you to click on the photographs to see them full frame. Feedback appreciated.


Critique Reinforced a Change in Direction

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I recently went to a portfolio review hosted by Richard Kelly. Not only was it valuable to hear critique of my own images but the overall evening was insightful. The experience of seeing the work of other photographers while listening to the critique of their work motivated me in an unexpected way.

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Sue Abramson was the artist doing the reviews. Prior to her individual review of the each photographers work, she gave a presentation of her book “A Woodlands Journal”. Her imagery was captivating. But most impressive to me was her commitment to the subject for 4 decades. It reinforced how much I just bounce around with my camera.

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I was torn between the styles of presentation of her review. The projected digital images allowed the entire group to see in a theater setting. However, all of the bumps associated with electronic presentation were there.

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I do enjoy looking at a print & this method of review allowed a broader critique of the images as well as the perspective of examining the story/style. The downside was that it’s hard for a group of people to gather around a table to engage with what she was saying & demonstrating. The options for sharing our work are numerous & should be molded to the venue and the viewer.

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Most of the work of the other photogs at the review had some sort of underlying nucleus. It was inspiring to see & learn about the vision of talented local photographers who have, or are exploring, a personal style in their artistic endeavors.

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During all of her critiques it wasn’t so much the specific comments she gave that resonated with me. It was her overall perspective looking at the collections of the images of the other photographers that opened a new vista for me.

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My “portfolio of images” had no theme & is best described as eclectic without foundation. I doubt my motivation in photography will ever become focused on one genre. I believe I am destined to be a generalist. I have recognized this for a while & embrace the diversity. However, the next review session I take part in I will put together a theme of images, which I believe will result in a more valuable feedback.

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Critiquing my images Ms. Abramson encouraged me to pursue subjects I mentioned I enjoy like dance & sailboats while giving relevant critique on some of my other images. I realized that on this blog the written support is the strength of my style of story telling. While my images on any particular posting have some commonality, the visual theme usually is linked by the text. I’ve put more emphasis on prose than image continuity in an effort to improve my writing.

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As you can see by the images in this posting, the subjects of my photography are diverse. I like the challenge of some subjects. I believe it’s important to document the human condition. Often something will just catch my eye. People have so many varied activities I am motivated to capture candid moments. The beauty in the natural world is an inspiring subject. I’ve gotten better at tuning my eyes to light & shadow. I also have become comfortable with Photoshop to enhance or occasionally modify an image. I’ve even ventured into the challenges of Black & White. The title of the Scorsese film about Dylan No Direction Home resonates.

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I can not ignore the inspiration I got in my youth from photojournalism. I will still attempt to capture moments that resonate ideas. However, the ability of using photography to expand & explore creative points of view is something I will try to embrace.

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My take away from the evening motivated me to change my publishing schedule for this blog from twice a month to a more relaxed “whenever I have something to say” deadline. I had been feeling some self-inflicted pressure to do the 2-blog postings a month I’ve done since 11/15. I’m now motivated to explore a more visually dominate approach to story telling. I’ve proven to myself the writing of stories to accompany my photos in the style of “show & tell” is something I can do.

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I will be interested to see where this leads. Comments & suggestions are always welcome. After 73 blogs that began over 3 years ago using over 58 thousand words I no longer find value in a self-imposed deadline. Spelling… always a work in progress.

Motivated by Loss

Death may not seem like a topic for motivation. However, the emotions we experience with the loss of someone in our family a friend or just someone we spent time with are powerful currents of perception. We can’t avoid the loss of people in our lives just as we cannot escape our own departure. It is a shared perspective, but a truly unique, experience. It is an emotional cocktail of grief & relief when we say Rest in Peace.

For me, imagery plays an important part in that grieving process. When I look at the world around me I see transitions that I can relate to the cycle of life. The Natural World provides some comfort when I see all around me the passing of one phase of life leading to a new beginning.

 It doesn’t matter if it is natural or tragic, sudden or prolonged, in another part of the world or on our street; when we hear the news of the passing of someone that was a part of our lives we react to a new reality. Our lives do go on but with something missing.What remains are memories. We look to our past experiences thru a curtain of loss while remembering the moments we shared.

I find solace in water.Constantly in motion, rain, clouds & streams evolve as they journey to the sea. The diversity is amazing just like the experiences in our lives &those we shared those times with. There is no returning to the moments of life that have drifted by.

After hearing a National Park Ranger say “Water Always Wins” I have often found myself repeating it. It is also a metaphor for the fact that death is an inevitable part of life. I see each of our lives flowing downstream into something larger than itself.

Some find comfort in the dogma of religion. It offers a path to understanding questions, which have no answer. Our grief is enveloped with families & friends in a communal ritual of customs to honor the life of the deceased. Time does not heal all wounds. The new reality has a scar we can’t ignore.

The inspiration I get from death does not have a direct impact on my photography. It has more of an impact on how I will try to use the days ahead of me with the memories of people I have lost.  I try to see things in ways others may ignore. With my camera, which is an extension of my mind’s eye, I try to capture images that show the world I am living in. It can make my life seem fuller. Calm waters.


Motivation is Rewarded

01After photographing dance in Cuba & then at Chautauqua Institute in 2017 I was hooked on this subject. Earlier this year I sent out emails to potential resources seeking to collaborate. This gave me the opportunity to explore other genres & environments of dance. The basic challenges of capturing dynamic images during rehearsals or stage performances were the same as the limited ballet photography I had done. That experience proved to be of value.

02Attack Theater performances are of the modern/contemporary genre. Although the dancers choreography is significantly different than classical ballet, the movement, athleticism & the forms are entertaining & inspiring. I did notice that more often than not, the number of dancers on the stage was an even number. I prefer odd numbers of primary subjects but I was able to adapt.

03During a tech rehearsal I was able to be very close with my 40mm lens allowing me to capture some of the facial emotions, which are an important aspect of this performance. The side lighting was typical for a stage performance but the production also included projected images on the background screen. The imagery of the projections added to the impact of the performance. However, for still images it was distracting when on the dancers body. This image is a good example of why I like odd numbers of subjects.

04“Game Night” was a chance for Attack Theater to engage with the audience in a relaxed atmosphere while developing an upcoming performance. The space is a rehearsal hall with no defined seating for the audience. This was a good opportunity for me to be close enough to use my 28mm. I targeted to pools of light waiting for the dancers to move into them. The background worked surprisingly well. Stage lighting, while not always good for photography, can create strong shadows.

05Using the shadow to make this a 3 shot works for me. The ISO is high making it grainy but that’s OK. At first the wooden apple box bothered me but the strong low/side lighting on it adds to the geometry in the frame. This is an image I would like to choreograph for photography. I also like the re-crop to a 2 X 1 format.

06Wide shots with empty space can be as dramatic as a close-up & can be an important part of the story. Each of the dancers hit the perfect mark for the lighting. Positioned near stage left & slightly elevated I was able to add some dimension while including well-lit props. Even when the dancers are not moving, I believe including the space they are in reinforces their form. Using the 2 X 1 crop again, I emphasized the weight of the lower 1/3 pulling your attention down to the floor.

07Call it modern or contemporary, the movements & choreography on stage are entertaining. Attack Theater incorporates music & theater into a dance performance I found as powerful as my limited exposure to more classic ballet. The human form is a wonderful brush to paint with. Including emotion with character while doing this provides an inspiring performance that sticks in your mind.

08In a post from 6/15/18 I explored the creative process of Mary Miller & Charles Hall as they developed a dance piece with a story-line about friendship. My early involvement with their work allowed me to know when & where to be to get that moment while providing a better understanding of creative development.  Initially I was disappointed at the vertical split of the background in this shot but I got over it. The strong lighting & the facial expressions dominated my eye. The motion blur of his right hand is a nice reinforcement to the message on his face.

09bAt the performance of the Nandanic Dance Festival I had the chance to see different styles of Indian dance. It is not Ballet or Modern. These performers have exclusive genres of movement with elaborate costumes & make-up. In this medium close-up shot it is easy to see the importance of the eyes & facial expression in the character of the dancer.

10Another dancer in the Nandanic performance provided his own soundtrack as he choreographed his drum playing with impressive dancing. The combination of coordination, musical talent & expression made this piece exciting.

11While I thoroughly enjoyed the performance on the stage, as a photographer, I would like to have controlled lighting in a studio with this genre of dancers. The costume, the jewelry, the make-up when used on these performers deserves special attention separate from a live performance.

12My initial attraction to this image came after I cropped it square. The depth & the balance worked well. However the lighting, the background and the color were distracting. With no offense to photogs that do good B/W, sometime just removing the Chroma can make an OK image much better. I am fortunate that I was able to explore more dance photography. Come 2019 I will try to coordinate more opportunities or even enroll in a workshop.

An Ongoing Inspiration & Challenge

01 copyOn Facebook last December, a friend posted video from the Volvo  Around the World Ocean Race. The images & footage from onboard the boats really got my attention. Racing around the world takes tremendous endurance & the ability to follow it so dramatically got me hooked. When I found out Newport RI was one of 11 stops I began to plan a road trip to photograph these amazing boats.

02Last Summer I failed at connecting with Tall Ships as they were passing thru the Great Lakes. With a defined departure date from Narragansett Bay in Mid May, I was not going to miss a chance to get some shots of these unique boats. I established a connection with John Lincourt, a RI photographer with a portfolio of great sailing images. He provided me with some valuable info. Things work out better when you can talk to someone with both experience & local knowledge to develop a plan.

03Sailboats are a subject I enjoy watching as well as taking photographs of. Not only are their numerous types of boats but they offer a diversity of forms that are unique. The only other forms I can compare them to in my mind’s eye are dancers. Since I own a small sailboat & have done a bit of sailing I recognize the challenge of capturing the unseen power of the wind to guide your boat. Although photos from onboard a sailboat are OK, in my opinion the real beauty is seen from another boat or the shore.

04 7D2L9029 last saturdayOn Saturday they had an In-Port-Race. With only a very minor impact on the scoring for the competition it was really more of a dog & pony show for host cities to promote. Even in the rain crowds lined the shore & filled the fleet of spectator boats. I had decided to buy a seat on a Ferry for this event  This gave me a somewhat elevated position above the fleet of fans. On Sunday, as they started the race leg across the Atlantic to Whales, I took images from shore near Ft. Adams.

05These boats are a custom design for one thing. Sail around the world as fast as possible. If you’re not familiar with sailing take my word these things fly through the water. Slicing thru waves for 600 miles in 24 hours must be one heck of a ride! They have almost nothing in common with my lil 15 foot day-sailor other than they both float. The 3 dome shaped antennas on the stern provide a link via satellite for vital weather info as well as a uploading images & footage. With 5 fixed video cameras & an embedded photojournalist, each team gave updates from all over the worlds oceans. The technology & the effort to capture & distribute this 9-month event is unlike anything I have ever heard of. It makes video coverage of a marathon look easy.

06I knew the basics of racing sailboats having read a bit about America’s Cup & seen a few on Chautauqua. When I saw Narragansett Bay I realized this was about as perfect a venue as possible for holding a port race because of the locations for spectators to watch along Ft. Adams. I’m sure that without rain or fog it would be stunning. On the upside, the poor weather did soften the background. The decision to be on the Ferry on Saturday was indeed the right choice. Watching 2 of these monsters sail thru the crowded spectator boats was a demonstration of amazing confidence.

07It was a personal challenge to frame tight because I think the beauty is in the wide shot with the wind shaping the sails. However, having viewed many sailing images prior to my trip I understood the power of a tight shot without the complete sailing rig. This is especially true when the boat is horizontal to the camera or coming right at you.

07aRD Turn tideNaturally, on an event as big & as expensive as this, sponsorship by businesses & organizations is necessary. I’m not a fan of the NASCAR type of branding but I understand it provides the financial support to make it happen. Turn The Tide on Plastic sails under the flag of the United Nations & is sponsored by foundations seeking to raise awareness of our oceans health. It was the only boat with a woman skipper.

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A unique aspect of trying to find the best sailing shots is the diversity of perspectives. In my perfect image, the horizon should not interfere which ideally would mean a position high enough to see only water in the background. This requires either a drone…I’m not buying another toy…or shooting from a helicopter, which is a very pricey platform. Ignoring the poor weather conditions this is about as close as I came to my “dream” shot.

09This is the crew that won it all 6 weeks later. As with any world-class competition, racing sailboats requires a level of experience, dedication & daring that only a handful of individuals can muster. To do it for over 45,000 nautical miles over 9 months makes it one of the most demanding sporting events any human can undertake. In the 13 races of this event since 1973, 9 people have lost their lives. John Fisher, one of the crew on Scallywag, was knocked overboard in the middle of the Southern Pacific Ocean. RIP

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As the boats headed off across the Atlantic for a 3300-mile sprint to Wales I felt a sense of accomplishment. I was not inspired to take up or closely follow sailboat racing. However, the imagery of sailboats remains an elusive photographic goal. I learned a great deal more about this event; I had made good decisions in my planning & I had expanded my understanding of personal motivations. Most rewarding, I got a few nice shots.