Almost all the photos I have of my 18 and 20-year-old daughters when they were little were taken by other people. When I left college, I traveled overseas, and all the photos I have of that amazing year were taken by other people. I don’t believe I used a camera once during college. I only started taking photos about a decade ago.
Photography is my creative outlet now, but it is not my first outlet. I spent most of my childhood and teenage years playing the flute, taking ballet lessons, and writing copious journals and short stories. As an adult, before and during my photography phase, I have thrown myself into knitting, baking, felting, canning, playing the recorder and pennywhistle, making books, and more. Sometimes I wonder why I am so fickle and can’t just stick to one thing. But at other times, I marvel at the way one creative endeavor has influenced another. For example, I was Waldorf-educated through 8th grade, and I have noticed evidence of their color shading and fairytale-inspired art lessons in my photographic vision.
A few years ago, the president of PS21 (http://ps21chatham.org/), a performance space down the road from me in my rural village in the Hudson Valley, asked me if I was interested in shooting some of their performances. I was thrilled to be asked, but I was worried about my lack of experience in dance and performance photography, which was pretty much limited to my daughters’ school plays. It didn’t take me long to realize that my own years of ballet and music lessons and performances were fantastic preparation for this work. I’ve now photographed many of their performances and workshops over the past three years, and it has been a wonderful experience.
I found I was often able to anticipate the best moments to click my shutter based on the rhythms and crescendos within the music and the body language of the dancers and musicians:
I’ve had to learn to think quickly on my own feet. Parson’s Dance, for example, performs a piece called Caught (https://vimeo.com/161029541), and once the strobe lights come on, the best way to make sure to actually catch the dancer is a long exposure, which creates interesting effects:
I can relate to the way these dancers are reacting to the music. That’s what I’m attempting to do with my camera.
I also enjoy getting to experience the workshops, which remind me of my own early dance and music lessons. I wonder how these girls will remember this experience when they are my age:
The best thing about this job has been getting to see extraordinary performances I might not have made the effort to see otherwise. Having the opportunity to take these photos has reminded me how much I enjoy dance and music and want to keep them as a part of my life.
I like to recognize the ways in which the different parts of my life are connected, and my experience with performance photography has helped me to connect my childhood and current life. My creativity has come full circle. I’d love to hear examples of how your past and present come together in your photography and if that’s something you think about when you’re making photos.
If you are ever in the Hudson Valley in the summer, please put Chatham and PS21 on your itinerary, and let me know—I’ll meet you for a picnic in the apple orchard before the performance!