Performance Photography: guest post from Deirdre Malfatto

In Community, Conversation, Digital, How-to, Inspiration, Uncategorized
Scroll this

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 (, 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 (, 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!

Deirdre Malfatto




  1. So wonderful to see you here Deirdre. Your images are stunning. I too think that photography connects all the dots in my life and makes them visible. Hope to see you again one of these days!

    • Thanks Lucy. Connecting the dots is the perfect way to describe it. And i’d love another NE meetup!

  2. SO wonderful to have you here, Deirdre. I have always enjoyed your performance photos, but I never knew about this piece of your background. Your intuition with these subjects has always struck me as so sharp. It all makes so much sense now.

    • Thank you Debbie! I often feel more fickle than connected, so writing this was helpful to me.

  3. Wow! What gorgeous work! Thank you so much for sharing them with us. This line- “My creativity has come full circle.” Yes and yes!

  4. Absolutely stunning photographs, Deirdre. I totally connected to you when you wrote about how fickle you are and how difficult it is to stick to one thing. Looking at your pictures I realize how much I am missing by not attending dance performances (a shame, especially since Pilobolus is located in a town 20 minutes from me)!

    That is definitely going to change.

    • Thank you Grace. Pilobolus! Get thee there! I’ve never seen them but I would love to.

      A word to the wise — the space where I work hires and doesn’t allow outside photographers. If you want to photograph performances, make sure you speak with the venue first to make sure you have permission. Different venues have different rules.

  5. Deirdre, I’m so in love with these images… I can feel that rhythm and movement in them, it’s wonderful to try to imagine the music that might go along with them. Thank you for your contribution to ViewFinders too, it’s fantastic to have you here!

  6. Thank you Maite, and thank you for inviting me to contribute!

  7. Wow wow wow! These photographs are simply stunning! I LOVE that banner shot of the dancers floating in the air. Thanks so much for sharing your work with us.

  8. Stunning photos Deirdre! WOW! You’ve really found your rhythm with this work! I love the long exposure! I hope I get to experience one of these shows one summer when I’m up at the lake!

  9. Thank you for the thoughtful mix of inspiration and education. I’ve been photographing local bands that play music on our library steps and you’ve given me some great ideas. You’ve done great justice to the talented performers and their art!

Comments are closed.