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Who are your favorite photographers of dance?

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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.

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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.



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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I, too was inspired by Swope.... I like what Paul K. does, very much. Some of his non-ballet photos are very interesting.

I also love many images by Costas, who is an interesting person -- was a mathematics teacher for many years.

When I started to read this forum, I was trying to remember the name of a Russian photographer who made a wonderful image of Balanchine. Back in the late 80's early 90's I found some blank greeting cards with this photo pasted on the front. I bought only two of them and (fool that I was) gave them to my 2 favorite NYCB dancers.

So-----thanks to Google, here is his name and a portion of his bio for all of you from eBay (where else??). He sometimes still sells images on B'way, outside, near Lincoln Center!

"Vladimir Bliokh, world renowned premier Ballet & Dance photographer, was the official photographer of the Bolshoi & the Kirov Ballet for NOVOSTI Press Agency (APN) in Moscow, Russia where he worked from 1960 till 1976 before he left to the United States. He lives and works in New York City for the past 28 years.Vladimir began photography at the age of 10. As a teenager in the 50's, he also was a student at the Bolshoi Academy of Ballet."

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I'd like to add my voice for Maurice Seymour. His studio photographs are a stunning example of that genre and his era.

With the advent of high speed film and the increasing acceptance of photographers in rehearsals and some performances, dance photography has really moved towards the live action shot, and there are wonderful practitioners of that working now, many of whom have been mentioned here. But I find that I miss the deliberate quality of some of the older studio shots, as well as the highly nuanced lighting/shading that often comes with that form.

I never saw Danilova dance, but I learned a great deal about her as a performer by looking at Seymour's photos.

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I also like Marc Haegeman for richness of color, contrast of light and dark (especially those shots against a dark background) and the way he conveys the three-dimensionality of the dancers' form.

His website is an education in Bolshoi/Kirov dancing and helps me follow the erudite comparisons of Russian dancers I love to read on Ballet Talk. Here's a LINK:

For Ballet Lovers Only

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Fred Fehl has always been my favorite. When you see his photographs---you are there seeing the performance. I quote below some of his comments:

"To me ballet is the most fascinating and beautiful movement of the human body that can be captured by the camera. I photograph various aspects of the performing arts, but nothing is as gratifying to me as classical ballet. And I always prefer photographing during performance, because a performer alone offers the flow of movement as well as the artists' highest emotional expression. Of course, two things are all-important. First, one must be an expert photographer and, second, one must have a keen sense and understanding of dance movement. The most interesting experience for me is showing these action photographs to the artists and watching their amazement, surprise, enthusiasm--or, sometimes, disappointment when they see that they did something wrong, for the pictures show them as the audience saw them. Choreographers who dance in their own ballets will infrequently notice some step they wish they had not done and make corrections for the next performance."

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I love the work of Costas. One of my favorite ballet photos is a Costas image of a performance of Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto 2. While the corp is moving in the background Merrill Ashley is seen sailing through space in a a grand jete. The expression of serene regal beauty on her face combined with the sense of movement of the corp is stunning.

Although Bert Stern is not a dance photographer per se, the photo of Allegra Kent and Eddie Villela in the Bukagu pose is wonderful. We have a poster size of it matted and framed in our bedroom. It's an erotic image but with a admirable subtlety to it.

And finally there is a photographer who's name excapes me at the moment! :bash: He took pictures of Balanchine and his dancer's in the 50's. All are studio settings with the dancers in costumes. The one's that literally give me the chills, in a good way :blink:, are of Tanny LeClercq posed in her La Valse costume. This photgrapher also took some amazing pictures of Maria Tallchief and Jerry Robbins in Prodigal Son. I find his work very atmospheric, moody and mysterious. Lord I wish I could remember his name!!

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The most interesting experience for me is showing these action photographs to the artists and watching their amazement, surprise, enthusiasm--or, sometimes, disappointment

So true. Easily the nicest photo moment for me in the past year was when one girl who really struggles with flexibility saw a picture of herself in saut de chat and said "Did you photoshop that?"

There are plenty of "eeeeuws" too, but then my subjects are teenagers, so...

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---I think the name that Perky was looking for might be George Platt Lyons, but not sure. Also, Roger Wood in England photographed their first two tours (1951, 1952) there and published a little book on it. That was very good.

For the Souvenir Book in 1972 or so, there were WONDERFUL photographs by Michael Avedon, who is now affiliated with the company as a make-up and hair artist. The images he took, which include Patricia McBride, Helgi Tomasson, Gelsey Kirland, and Peter Martins, are stunning. Many of those images were used to form the silhouettes on tee shirts/sweats now sold at the gift bar (I got one in 1975 and another in the 1980's when the images were single, with no "shadow effect").

Personally, I did not care for Mitchell or Migdol.

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