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Author Topic: Dance photography  (Read 8685 times)

GrahamBy

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Dance photography
« on: October 08, 2015, 06:36:33 am »

Not a question, this just seemed the most likely place to put a link to a portfolio that made my jaw drop:

https://500px.com/stein

Interesting that the photographer trained as a sculptor.
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Rob C

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Re: Dance photography
« Reply #1 on: October 08, 2015, 09:37:01 am »

Annie Leibovitz, in her sister's video called "Life through a Lens" or something similar, states that she eventually discovered that it is impossible to photograph dance.

I tend to think she is right (on that one, at least), and I think it might also apply to music.

Some say that dance is about fantastical body sculpture in space; I disagree, and think it's more about continuity: nothing to do with frozen moments which can't capture something they, by my definition, are obviously not.

Music? All you get are snaps/complicated set-ups - take your poison - of whoever the subject happens to be. As in a silly argument elsewhere today, it may be semantics, but sematics wasted on things that are separate, disparate entities that defeat any attempt to turn the one into the other.

We just have to accept that photography is simply the capture of surface, y nada mas.

Rob C

jjj

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Re: Dance photography
« Reply #2 on: October 08, 2015, 09:46:20 am »

Not a question, this just seemed the most likely place to put a link to a portfolio that made my jaw drop:

https://500px.com/stein

Interesting that the photographer trained as a sculptor.
Looks like an awful lot of other people's work though.
Just do a google search of 'dance photography' and you will see an plenty of work like that.
« Last Edit: October 08, 2015, 10:07:24 am by jjj »
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jjj

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Re: Dance photography
« Reply #3 on: October 08, 2015, 09:58:23 am »

Annie Leibovitz, in her sister's video called "Life through a Lens" or something similar, states that she eventually discovered that it is impossible to photograph dance.

I tend to think she is right (on that one, at least), and I think it might also apply to music.

Some say that dance is about fantastical body sculpture in space; I disagree, and think it's more about continuity: nothing to do with frozen moments which can't capture something they, by my definition, are obviously not.
I think Leibowitz is not quite right. You can photograph dance, what you cannot photograph is dancing.
I'm a dancer myself and spent a lot of time in various dance worlds and rather unsurprisingly photographing them too.
Now with stills what you do is capture an essence of something rather than a whole thing. It's that distilling down that is key to being good at photographing something.
If you can capture an aspect of a dance then you have successfully photographed the dance. Even if you are not photographing the dancing itself which as you say is about continuity, but the continuity in itself without the music is not dancing either, it's just movement.
Also frozen movements or peak movements are very much a part of dancing, just as the gaps between the beats are as important as the beats themselves in music.
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GrahamBy

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Re: Dance photography
« Reply #4 on: October 08, 2015, 03:13:46 pm »

Yeah, I think I agree with jjj, although less eloquently: photography cannot capture the dance/dancing anymore than it can capture a model or a piece of fruit, but by pointing a camera at a dancer there is the possibility to make images that are full of symbolic force. The surface is already worthwhile.

It possibly refers to the deeper question of when is a photo something we might like to call art, and when is it just a photo of a thing that is the art. So a photo of a peak moment, or a staged moment that uses the capacity of dancers as models, is something different to dance and can perhaps be pretensious enough to call itself art in its own right.
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Rob C

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Re: Dance photography
« Reply #5 on: October 08, 2015, 04:59:02 pm »

Yeah, I think I agree with jjj, although less eloquently: photography cannot capture the dance/dancing anymore than it can capture a model or a piece of fruit, but by pointing a camera at a dancer there is the possibility to make images that are full of symbolic force. The surface is already worthwhile.

It possibly refers to the deeper question of when is a photo something we might like to call art, and when is it just a photo of a thing that is the art. So a photo of a peak moment, or a staged moment that uses the capacity of dancers as models, is something different to dance and can perhaps be pretensious enough to call itself art in its own right.

One thing that is beyond doubt, to me at least, is that trying to catch that staged moment is at the very least a creative device, because it is an attempt to make something happen that wasn't there before the attempt.

It's not the same thing as turning up with a camera and just snapping at whatever's in front of one.

Rob C

jjj

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Re: Dance photography
« Reply #6 on: October 08, 2015, 05:24:33 pm »

One thing that is beyond doubt, to me at least, is that trying to catch that staged moment is at the very least a creative device, because it is an attempt to make something happen that wasn't there before the attempt.

It's not the same thing as turning up with a camera and just snapping at whatever's in front of one.
You can be creative even if photographing something you have not staged yourself. You have to be creative in a different way that all.
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GrahamBy

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Re: Dance photography
« Reply #7 on: October 09, 2015, 04:06:17 am »

I'd have to agree with Rob about music though... while a photo of a dancer and watching the dancer are both visual experiences and so at least related... you can't photograph sound. So you can do a portrait of Viktoria Mullova holding a violin and it tells you nothing about how she plays it. In fact I even find videos of classical musical performances pretty disappointing, since the director usually tries to get clever and interpretative, rather than just letting me watch.

Interesting that there, pop-music is way ahead, basically short impressionistic films for which the music is the sound track... and CD covers are thematic portraits, rather than performance photos in 99% of cases.
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Rob C

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Re: Dance photography
« Reply #8 on: October 09, 2015, 04:57:01 am »

I'd have to agree with Rob about music though... while a photo of a dancer and watching the dancer are both visual experiences and so at least related... you can't photograph sound. So you can do a portrait of Viktoria Mullova holding a violin and it tells you nothing about how she plays it. In fact I even find videos of classical musical performances pretty disappointing, since the director usually tries to get clever and interpretative, rather than just letting me watch.

Interesting that there, pop-music is way ahead, basically short impressionistic films for which the music is the sound track... and CD covers are thematic portraits, rather than performance photos in 99% of cases.


Which is why LP covers were so potent - when properly utilised. If only by size and glamour they attracted interest, and that concept still, translated into the world of photographic prints, tends to make larger prints a bit more interesting than tiny ones. But again, there are natural sizes that seem to suit different images, rather than there being a single, magical print size that changes everything into art! ;-)

Thing with pictures of live shows is this, and it is close to your own point: looking at Jagger or somebody else, you have no idea what they might have been singing performing, you just sort of get the drift of it being their kind of posturing.

Is it enough? No, I don't think so, but it's better than nothing and certainly better than a stiff, formal, overly coloured studio portrait.

Rob C

P.S. One thing I detested was the 'psychedelic' cover image with those typìcal, projected whorls of colour dripped into goldfish bowls!
« Last Edit: October 09, 2015, 05:02:36 am by Rob C »
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tony field

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Re: Dance photography
« Reply #9 on: October 13, 2015, 01:29:18 am »

Dance is a rather interesting form of photography.  There are two aspects .. performance shoots (a rehearsal or a public performance).  This form of dance is much like theatre shooting ... it seems to be a reaction to form and composition.  I do not think this is art ... it is more of a skill.   The second form of dance photography can be artistically a creative process where the dancer and photographer collaborate to produce a specific interpretation of the dancer.

In any case, the images can become art when the suitable photo editing is done. 

I do a lot of dance / theatre work ... sadly, I am not an artist ... however I can be skillful at recording some useful images.  I just shot a flamenco performance ... the performers loved the images but, as art, they sadly fail the test.
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Rob C

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Re: Dance photography
« Reply #10 on: October 13, 2015, 03:02:42 pm »

Tony,

I'm not, and never have been a 'music' photographer as such; I have never done anything in a stadium or like that, but imagine that the problems remain the same: however you catch the subject, sitting, standing, in mid-air, it remains silent and frozen or just silent and blurred. It isn't alive. Only by adding lots of personal imagination to the act of looking at an image of someone you already like, can you offer it your own version of inner life. Looking at some stranger's portrait, sans the personl connection, what have you got to look at? Especially when looking at an image as a photographer, the best you can offer is appreciation or otherwise of the technique.

I think!

Rob C



tony field

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Re: Dance photography
« Reply #11 on: October 13, 2015, 08:16:14 pm »

That is the exact problem Rob.   Anything we shoot of a performance is a frozen moment. What we try to show is some of the personal emotion we, as audience, perceive.  This differs drastically among performances and genres.   Two distinct problems seem to happen ... one is "do I understand what the performance is really trying to convey?"  In other words do I really "understand" what I am shooting.  The second is "will an arbitrary viewer of the image" understand the performance. 

For example, a dancer like JJJ who is also a photographer will capture an image that, with understanding, will portray the essence of the dance.  The arbitrary viewer of this image must also have a sensibility for the art form - if not, all of the intended and essential meaning is missed.

For we who are really nothing more than a photographer, try to apply our limited appreciation of the art form and capture "pleasing images" that represent what we saw.  Usually this is in the form of good compositions, nice colours, and other photographic attributes.   This is IMHO not art ... this is simply artisan skill.  We hope that both the performers and the incidental viewers of the picture will "like it" with their different respective abilities to appreciate the performance.

Here are a few images from the Flamenco performance I just shot.  Unfortunately, I was stuck in one seat and could not move around to optimize compositions.
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D Fuller

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Re: Dance photography
« Reply #12 on: October 13, 2015, 09:01:10 pm »

I don't think anybody has captured dance better than Max Waldman. Just do a google image search for Max Waldman photos and the resulting page is a riot of movement.
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tony field

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Re: Dance photography
« Reply #13 on: October 13, 2015, 09:59:07 pm »

I don't think anybody has captured dance better than Max Waldman. Just do a google image search for Max Waldman photos and the resulting page is a riot of movement.

Superb images indeed.  Thanks for the link.    Motivated me to try a quick B&W conversion on one of mine :) :)
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GrahamBy

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Re: Dance photography
« Reply #14 on: October 14, 2015, 04:58:06 pm »

A bit along the lines of Rob C's shot, but less well done: I consider it a portrait of the singer, not a representation of the music...
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jjj

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Re: Dance photography
« Reply #15 on: October 14, 2015, 06:58:24 pm »

For example, a dancer like JJJ who is also a photographer will capture an image that, with understanding, will portray the essence of the dance.  The arbitrary viewer of this image must also have a sensibility for the art form - if not, all of the intended and essential meaning is missed.
You've only captured the essence if someone not familiar with the dance can appreciate it.
I think photos of interests like say dance, rock climbing or cycling should be only considered really successful, if people outside of those fields appreciate them too.
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D Fuller

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Re: Dance photography
« Reply #16 on: October 14, 2015, 10:52:42 pm »

You've only captured the essence if someone not familiar with the dance can appreciate it.
I think photos of interests like say dance, rock climbing or cycling should be only considered really successful, if people outside of those fields appreciate them too.

Well said.
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tony field

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Re: Dance photography
« Reply #17 on: October 15, 2015, 12:33:11 am »

You've only captured the essence if someone not familiar with the dance can appreciate it.
I think photos of interests like say dance, rock climbing or cycling should be only considered really successful, if people outside of those fields appreciate them too.

Partly true.   People who are "outside the field" (in terms of understanding or appreciation) only recognize the quality of the photograph as an abstract art representation (of compositions, tones, etc).  It does not mean that this representation actually captures the essence or quality of the performer/performance.  These "outsiders" only see and understand the surface attributes of the image.  They might (or might not) see the difference between a "good dancer" and a "great dancer" even if the two images are presented side-by-side (under the assumption that this type of distinction is one of the attributes that should be considered for "essence").

I think this applies to all forms of photography (and art) ... the image audience must have some cultural appreciation of the presented material.  Audiences are very fickle.
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GrahamBy

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Re: Dance photography
« Reply #18 on: October 15, 2015, 04:00:46 am »

I think Tony nails it. The best a photo can do is bring something of interest to an audience who is already interested in the area and has some knowledge. If you have no appreciation of dance, a dance related photo is unlikely to stir much within. On the other hand, if the photo only acts as a reminder of the event for those who were there, it is just a snap-shot.

To put it in other words, there is a certain level of ambition in the audience you are trying to reach. Appealing to the dancer's mother is about as unambitious as you can get... whereas if you want to capture the attention of The Average Man in The Street, you'd be better to forget the dance and just get a pretty naked woman.

The same applies in sport. Motorcycle racing is the one I happen to know best, having been a racer, an official and a spectator:
a) you can show a blurry mess to someone and they'll say "yeah, I was there, just after that Casey did this amazing pass around the outside of Jorge...", the photo triggers memories of stuff that it doesn't show, for a very small audience;
b) you show a knowledgeable person and the reaction is "my god, look at the slip angle on that front tyre, how is he controlling that? And he's already looking 100m down the track at the next corner...";
c) "Wow, he's leaned over a long way, how come he doesn't fall off?"

I'd suggest b) is the greatest challenge and most satisfying for the photographer.
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jjj

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Re: Dance photography
« Reply #19 on: October 15, 2015, 06:40:41 am »

I think Tony nails it. The best a photo can do is bring something of interest to an audience who is already interested in the area and has some knowledge. If you have no appreciation of dance, a dance related photo is unlikely to stir much within. On the other hand, if the photo only acts as a reminder of the event for those who were there, it is just a snap-shot.

To put it in other words, there is a certain level of ambition in the audience you are trying to reach. Appealing to the dancer's mother is about as unambitious as you can get... whereas if you want to capture the attention of The Average Man in The Street, you'd be better to forget the dance and just get a pretty naked woman.

The same applies in sport. Motorcycle racing is the one I happen to know best, having been a racer, an official and a spectator:
a) you can show a blurry mess to someone and they'll say "yeah, I was there, just after that Casey did this amazing pass around the outside of Jorge...", the photo triggers memories of stuff that it doesn't show, for a very small audience;
b) you show a knowledgeable person and the reaction is "my god, look at the slip angle on that front tyre, how is he controlling that? And he's already looking 100m down the track at the next corner...";
c) "Wow, he's leaned over a long way, how come he doesn't fall off?"

I'd suggest b) is the greatest challenge and most satisfying for the photographer.
I'd say b) is not much different from appealing to the dancer's mother in many ways. Which is kind of the essence of my point.
They are also, in your description not really looking at the photograph as such. In fact such people can be terrible judge of a photograph's worth. Because they get distracted by the technicalities of what is being shown and don't really get the photograph.

I had an interesting talk with someone I did dance photos for once as I made the dancers look good, but not perfectly accurate as the client saw things. The photos were not for analysis by experts or an attempt at recording minutiae whilst documenting a dance that is anything but exact anyway, but promotional images to appeal to and attract the non-expert.
He asked me to do some more work again a short while back, but I was already booked. So I obviously did the right thing.
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