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Who are your favorite photographers of dance?What makes them special?

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#1 bart


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Posted 02 November 2005 - 08:01 AM

Our fellow member, amitava, is an exceptional dance photographer. On another thread today, he commented on the kind of skill needed to do this work.

Most dance photographers I know (and have observed) and I, predict the moment as we see it coming. Then we use a single click to capture it. Continual shooting is considered less than ideal. One wastes energy and film/memory. I have seen some green newspaper photographers use the fast click technique, but that is not the norm.

The challenge is not in just capturing the moment, but also having the correct exposure and frame/composition ready. Many photographers have a sense of the moment, but not the framing. The aesthetic sense of framing is commonly referred to as the "eye". So someone with a good "eye" will have interesting photos. I rarely crop a photo more than 10-30% of the area. In most cases what you see is the way the shot was taken.

Solos and duets are easy to shoot but corps work is a challenge, due to coordination of the dancers and size of formations.

Having said that, most photographers with digital cameras, can shoot close to 200 photos in a 20-30 min piece (depending on the style ad choreography). The final yield of "good" photos is smaller. I have noticed that in Ballet solos and duets, 20% of the photos are not usable. In corps work, 50-60% of the photos have to be thrown away. Artistic directors, and marketing eliminate more photos due to their stringent requirements.


My first experience of loving the work of a dance photographer was with Martha Swope, who created unforgettable b&w images of the early decades of the NYCB. (Not to mention that great photo of Balanchine watching Mourka, his cat, as he leaping into a truly prodigious tour en l'air.) (1)

I also admire the work done by Steven Caras, first at NYCB, and now for Miami City Ballet. Caras was a NYCB dancer whose photographic interests were encouraged by Balanchine. He has an uncanny sympathy for the way the dancer's body moves. I guess his most famous photo is not actually of a dance. It's Balanchine's last curtain call ("last bow") at the NY State Theater on closing night, 1982. (2)

Who are the dance photographer's you most admire? And what makes them special?

-- (1) Taper, Balanchine, p. 244.
-- (2) Tributes: Celebrating Fifty Years of New York City Ballet, pp. 112-113.

#2 32tendu



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Posted 02 November 2005 - 08:12 AM

As a photograher, I agree with your post celebrating Martha Swope and her work. Ballet was truly fortunate to have her.

Paul Kolnick certainly has unlimited access to beauty and he captures it accordingly.

I view ballet photography as a tool paramount in the preservation of the art and it's significant contributions.


#3 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 02 November 2005 - 09:12 AM

Maurice Seymour.
Fred Fehl.
Marty Sohl.
Bernie Gardella.

#4 Mashinka


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Posted 02 November 2005 - 09:35 AM

Still with us:
Jenny Walton
Judy Cameron

In the past:
Alexander Ukladnikov

Not a strictly a ballet photographer, but has produced beautiful pictures of dancers:
Lord Snowden

#5 Marga


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Posted 02 November 2005 - 09:35 AM

I was also an ardent admirer of Martha Swope.
Today I most admire Nina Alovert who has captured brilliant ballet moments, both on and offstage.
I think that our own Marc Haegeman is the supreme ballet portraitist. His closeups of faces and gorgeous studio shots are absolute works of photographic art.

I find very interesting what amitava has written. Having been present at many ballet company and gala dress rehearsals, I have always been amused at the line of photographers skirting the stage, sounding like so many summer bugs as their cameras clicked away.
There are the inexperienced-for-dance newspaper photogs who do, indeed, handle their cameras like machine guns, hoping for that one special shot to just happen to fall in among the hundreds their cameras take.
How exciting it is to watch the genuine dance photographer who knows, as amitava does, to wait and be ready for those "money shots" by being aware of what the dancer is doing and by being poised at precisely the right instant to snap it.

#6 Farrell Fan

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Posted 02 November 2005 - 09:45 AM

My favorite ballet photographers are those who take good pictures of my favorite dancers. So I, too, greatly admire Steven Caras and Paul Kolnik. There's a stunning Caras photo of Suzanne Farrell and Peter Martins in "Sophisticated Lady," the farewell piece Martins choreographed for her, which hangs on my wall. In my bookcase there's a static Paul Kolnik photo of Suzanne and me at the Kennedy Center. There'd be more movement in that one if you could see me shaking.

I think we should make a distinction between those photographers who take photos of dancers in performance and those who take posed photographs. The distinction is usually clear in New York City Ballet brochures. Those that elicit the most comment on Ballet Talk are of corps members posing in parks, museums, or on rooftops. I prefer the performance photos.

#7 Ostrich


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Posted 02 November 2005 - 09:50 AM

I quite agree re. Nina Alovert and Marc Haegeman. I also admire Mikhail Logvinov and Hidemi Seto. I always particularly like photographers who capture the atmosphere, or essence, of the particular dancer/work being performed.

#8 Quiggin


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Posted 02 November 2005 - 11:05 AM

My list would include:

Alexei Brodovich for his classic book Ballet which has great swirly corps-rushing like-water-across-the-stage pictures of 1940's Ballet Theater productions (It includes some nice Cotillion and Balustrade photos)

Walker Evans for his anti-romantic pictures for a Fortune article, including a stark picture of Davilova doing making and a picture of a flower being pinned to a dress of a ballerina, as if to the bark of a tree

Cartier-Bresson's pictures of Russian ballet in his Russia book

Also I believe Inge Morath took some nice ballet phots.

Definitely having the limitation of 36 photographs to a roll of film made better photographers of everyone.

#9 dirac


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Posted 02 November 2005 - 11:58 AM

Keith Money. Gordon Anthony. George Platt Lynes. Barbara Morgan for her Graham photographs. Bert Stern for his photographs of his ex, Allegra Kent and fellow dancers like Villella, even if you did behave like a major league jerk, Bert.....

Great topic, bart, thanks.

#10 scoop



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Posted 02 November 2005 - 12:09 PM

In addition to those mentioned above, I greatly admire Rosalie O'Connor. I find her work poetic, and even if I hadn't already known it, I think I would have guessed that she was a dancer herself.

#11 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 02 November 2005 - 12:09 PM

Roy Round has taken beautiful dance photos.

#12 sylphide



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Posted 02 November 2005 - 02:44 PM

I greatly admire Rosalie O'Connor. I find her work poetic

I agree: her pictures a very soft and poetic, simply beautiful.
The other one that comes to my mind is Jacques Moatti. Now, I do not know if it is because he gets tremendous funding by the POB or the French Governement and therefore can afford many rolls of films and come up with "THE" perfect pic, but they are always splendid. I always feel like I am at the front row of Opera Garnier when I see his pictures.

#13 vrsfanatic


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Posted 02 November 2005 - 04:58 PM

I am dating myself a bit, but what about Jack Mitchell?

#14 Mel Johnson

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Posted 02 November 2005 - 06:35 PM

And me too, Herb Migdoll.

#15 Paquita


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Posted 02 November 2005 - 06:54 PM

Cylla von Tiedemann
Her webpage
She does most of the photos for the NBoC, Toronto Dance Theatre, and other major Canadian companies.

I should also mention former NBoC dancer Johan Persson. He brings a unique perspective to his photos.

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