Yannick Lebrun, a wonderful dancer who was born and brought up in the
only French speaking country in South America, French Guiana, and is now
with the Alvin Ailey Dance Company, came to the studio to work with me
on the photographic project I’ve named, “Modern-Modern Dance.”
As I explain to every dancer I’m about to work with for the first time, I
told Yannick that photography cannot compete with dance: Dance uses movement, has depth and incorporates music. A photograph is frozen, flat and silent.
So the problem is this: How does one make a photograph of a dancer and
have any hope of creating something as exciting as watching him or her
The solution, I suggest, is that a photograph of a dancer is not dance, but rather its own art form. The dancer must perform for the camera, for the split second the shutter is open, as if for a live audience.
Essentially, a successful image is the result of a highly skilled human
being doing something physically for the sake of the briefest moment in
This requires a dancer to perform differently from what he or she does in the fluid continuity of dance. In
a sense, they must “become” a still picture, making something happen so
that his or her image will “pop,“ seeming to come alive with energy
despite the loss of movement. Not posing, but somehow stopping action.
For example, if one attempted to make a photograph of a dancer
performing a full 360-degree pirouette using a flash with a freeze
motion duration of 1/1000 of a second, there can easily be over a
thousand possible images. And it’s possible that none would work very
well for the camera. The dancer would need to be relatively relaxed in
order to perform the motion as beautifully as it might be done onstage.
And “relaxed” kills the drama of a photograph.
In some cases, I shoot a low-res video of a dancer’s movement. Then I
play it back and have the dancer watch it slowly, even frame by frame,
so we can find which frame (frozen moment) might make a memorable image.
We’ll then go about working to make an explosive, energetic, often
muscularly intense miracle that will explode off the page. This is how
Yannick and I worked together to create these photographs.
After the active elements of the shoot, we also spent a little time making portraits.
Showing Yannick his image on the camera screen.
Yannick has enriched the project.