This New Photography Book Makes Statuesque Dramas Of The Moving Body

NYC Dance Project is the Brooklyn-based photography project that captures the fluidity of NYC’s dancers and dance in fine-grained, epic portraiture. The pair surmount the paradoxical obstacle of capturing, in still-image, the manipulation and emotional colouring of space through movement of the human body, and the results are a series of hallowed, chillingly magnificent images.

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Each image set is the result of a collaboration between subject and photographer. Meticulously tailored, and correspondingly unique, the work behind each photograph is apparent; yet far from being cumbersome, the perfect coherence of the parts elevates the weightless pieces into an odd, static space pregnant with gravitas and the signature of movement. We talked to Deborah Ory, who works alongside photographer Ken Browar on the collection, about NYC dance Project’s upcoming book The Art of Movement.

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The Plus: How did this project come about?
Deborah Ory:
The inspiration for the project came when our daughter Sarah, an aspiring ballerina, wanted to decorate her room with dance photographs. To our disappointment, we were not able to find images of the current dancers that Sarah admired in any current books or photographs. There were beautiful images of famous dancers from past generations – such as Baryshnikov or Markova, taken more than 40 years ago – but nothing we liked of the current stars.

Ken decided we needed to photograph these dancers ourselves. We were great fans of Daniil Simkin, the American Ballet Theatre Principal Dancer, and sent him an email asking him to be our first subject. Daniil loves photography and agreed to be photographed, this was the beginning of NYC Dance Project. As we photographed more and more dancers, we felt they would work well as a book and began working on “The Art of Movement”.

Ken’s background was as fashion and celebrity photographer, working in Paris, photographing for magazines such as Elle, Vogue, Marie Claire as well as advertising. He had photographed celebrities such as Natalie Portman and Meryl Streep.

My background is not only in photography but in dance as well. I started dancing at age seven and I began my photography career when I was injured and could not dance, so I took photos of the rehearsal of my friends and colleagues. I eventually pursued my photography career, rather than dance, and worked as a magazine editor at Conde Nast.

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TP: The images are captured at perfectly poised moments. How did you go about getting each shot?
DO
: The project is a collaboration between both Ken and I as well as the dancer. We discuss what type of feeling and mood we are looking for in the image. We spend some time playing with ideas and then together we chose a movement to work on and refine the image.

Having a background in dance has been really useful in the project. It has helped with timing in the photographs – for example being able to capture the dancer in a jump. It’s also been helpful to help figure out the movements in each image, I enjoy choreographing and coming up with ideas for the compositions and poses for the photographs.

Dancers speak their own language and it’s been helpful to have this vocabulary when working with the dancers. I also understand the technique of dance and know which images to pick where the dancer is in the perfect position.

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TP: Some beautiful costumes feature – where did these come from?
DO:
Many of the dance companies have loaned us costumes for the shoots, this is always a pleasure for us. I’ve borrowed couture dresses from many designers, and it can be challenging to find clothing that moves well, but when we find a designer whose clothing moves well, it is really magical.

TP: What do you think is conveyed by a still from a dance that isn’t conveyed in the movement itself?
DO:
While I love seeing live performance of dance, there is something very different and exciting about seeing a still image of a dancer. The image is a moment frozen in time and can have the ability to capture something your eye can’t always see during movement. The photograph documents a fleeting moment, while even when you see the same dance more than once, a live performance is never repeated exactly the same way each time.

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TP: Will you be looking to expand on this series in the future?
DO:
We are continuing the project, the book was just the first step. We would ideally like to have gallery shows and traveling exhibits of our work, as well as more books. The project has been such a pleasure for us to work on, we can’t imagine stopping!

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