Dodge & Burn is a series of photo essays documenting local culture with a focus on artful imagery, movement, and light.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about immobility, both mental and physical. I’ve had this fear that my art is becoming only about documenting other people’s work. It is true that I haven’t been drawing or painting nearly as much since falling in love with performance. But, this shoot turned out to be a tall glass of water after my sweaty art spirit mowed its yard.
Last week, in a hot, attic dance studio, I leapt into the void. I stopped documenting and began to direct my shots. This wasn’t a spontaneous breakthrough; it took a year and several attempts to speak to the performers while shooting!
My ah-hah moment began when I was approached by Lucky Penny to do photographs for Threshold. I was a little nervous. I knew I wanted to shoot in a less passive manner, and that’s all I knew. So, I did some reading. My key was hidden on page forty-four of Jean Baudrillaud’s Cool Memories II, which reads:
You have to be a perfect dancer to dance immobility, like these solitary break-dancers…their bodies only move at long intervals, like the hand of a clock stopping for a minute on every second, spending an hour in each position…this immobility is not an inertia, but a paroxysm which boils movement down to it’s opposite. The same dialectic was already present in Chinese opera or in animal dances-an art of stupor, slowness, and bewitchment. This is the art of the photograph too, where the unreal pose wins out over real movement…with the result that a more intense, more advanced stage of the image is achieved in photography…
This was exactly what I needed to be thinking about.
By the time I got to the space the next day Blake Beckham and three dancers from Core, Alex Abarca, Alisa Mitten, and Claire Molla were glowing in the 100-degree attic. The studio was an attic space without air conditioning. Do you remember the last time you went to the attic on a sweltering day; the thick air, the heaviness, how still it was? I decided to emphasize that sensation.
The dancers continued to move through their paces as I shot them against the window. FYI photogs: under the midday sun the light is the clearest blue and shadows can slide into cobalt. You can see this even when shooting indoors without a flash.
Once I got into the flow, we moved to the darker side of the room, where the mirror stretched the rafters out forever and a small window showed the sky outside. I wanted to use my flash, planning to bounce the light off the ceiling. This requires a greater degree of communication between subject and photographer due to the recharge time. Dance photography is all about timing, and missing a shot because the flash doesn’t fire is nerve-racking. We decided they should move very slowly, freezing whenever I said stop. I circled the mass of people, angling up, down, or sideways while shooting for their faces, hands, and feet when they paused on request. The hardwood floor bounced warm light throughout the scene while the flash added a cool pop light from above. It worked, we moved right on cue throughout the shoot.
When I got home, I reread the Cool Memories segment. The experience would best be described as viscous and conscious. We all know that the world moves fast. This makes us think we have to move with it, but that’s not necessarily true. Sometimes, we have to pause. Occasionally, we have to freeze the frame and just look. That awareness can become creative immobility perfectly danced.
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