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!

It’s Been Awhile

I’ve been somewhat dormant publishing new posts since I’ve abandoned my twice a month deadlines. The gallery showing of Portraiture of Cuba, a non-photo focused trip visiting my daughter in Israel & the fact I’m not a fan of winter photography are my best excuses for not doing much new with my camera.

Also taking up significant time has been learning the visual differences between digital platforms, software, screens & projectors. Maintaining consistent quality in the digital world is frustrating! File that under “I hate digital”. I’ll let that go for now. 

The past months have been a time to continue crawling up the Photoshop mountain. Without a doubt I’ve abandoned earlier inhibitions about “altering the reality” of my images. In fact, some of my favorite images over the winter have been oldies that I now can do post-production work I’ve learned in the past few years. File that under “I LOVE digital”.

It’s not like I haven’t pressed the shutter recently. The unpredictable snapshots I got visiting Tel Aviv & Jordon were good exercise for my eyes & my mind. I never thought I’d get a surfing picture or see a couple on a date using a fast electric scooter. The light, the colors & the textures in the Jordon Desert were completely unexpected with a Deja vu of Star Wars.

I have a new camera with astounding low light capabilities. The advantages of higher resolution/full frame are great. I’m getting used to the electronic viewfinder associated with mirror-less but I’m still a fan of optical thru the lens. As with most things in life not all change is an improvement. The EOS-R will be getting a workout in the months ahead.

I have a few photo sojourns planned for the upcoming months including a road trip west visiting family & reconnecting with valued friends. It’s nice to be able to blend a photo topic that has baffled me for many decades with renewing personal connections.

I have an east bound trip where I’ll visit a respected friend before continuing the elusive challenge of chasing sailboats. The 12 Meter Championships is an opportunity I’m excited about. It’s part of a workshop with sailboat photographer Onne van der Wal. The logistics & variables involved with this passion of mine is something I’ve come to accept. Last May, going after the Volvo boats was disappointing because of the weather. Yet, sails continue to dominate my mind’s eye.

Later in the summer, the Tall Ships in Erie PA will provide another opportunity for capturing a chapter of my photo dreams.  In doing my planning, I’ve discovered another avenue I may someday pursue to put myself in position to capture the beauty & power of these boats. For now, I’m just hopeful that I have no need for a rain-cover for my camera in either Newport or Erie.

Closer to Pittsburgh, the opportunity for a multi-layered collaboration involving a mixed media diptych is in the works. It will be a collaborative effort where “the light” was an inspiration to both. This will be another chance to explore creative motivation. The back-story is one of the more interesting/serendipitous preludes to a project that can best be described as a ‘burgh thing. It may be a 2 part blog posting. (When was the last time you read diptych & serendipitous in the same paragraph?)

If all goes well, this fall I will finally spend a few days in what some have called The Most Beautiful City in Europe. Prague has been on my list of places I’ve wanted to visit with my camera. The lure involves history, architecture, classical music & at least geographically, the home of Bohemian lifestyle. Capturing the appeal with still images will be a challenge. A big work in progress.

A subject I enjoy almost everywhere I go requiring no planning is people. Sometimes they just add a human perspective to the frame. Other times their expressions preface an interesting story. In the case of still images of musicians I’m convinced a 2 shot tells a deeper story.

I often see what appears to be a boring sight & realize I have an unorthodox perspective. For example, parked cars seems bland at best. However, when I considered the skill needed to parallel park in tight urban areas, 5 cars caught my eye. Maybe it was a parade at rest?

If nothing else, this blog gives me a better understanding of why I pick up my camera. I enjoy putting myself in situations where I need to visually explore the environment to find a frame that inspires my mind’s eye. Frequently patience is a needed tool. However, per-visualization of subjects & the planning involved with chasing those moments is another layer of my photography motivation.

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.