It may seem ironic that photography, with its inherent emphasis on the still image, has always had a role in the documenting of movements and sounds of the performance based arts. If one looks at the early pictures from the 1880’s by Eadweard Muybridge they were locomotive studies in which the movement of animals and people were frozen. Moving forward to the explosion of early modernism in Paris in the 1920’s, Man Ray used photography and film to record the dancers, and the sets and backdrops of the Ballet Mechanic. At a similar time Russian Constructivist photographers like Alexander Rodchenko and Laszio Moholy-Nagy relied on the camera to record their own experiments in socialism and modern society. Their work was instrumental in pushing an agrarian society into an industrial giant.
Dance, music and the arts served the cultural (and often political) needs of society and became the voice of creativity and progress for the 20th century. This exhibition looks at contemporary photography’s ongoing investigations into the arts of dance and music. The various photographers have excelled at presenting images that suggest and visually record the sounds, movement, costumes, and performances of the artists that populate these disciplines. Barbara Morgan is a good starting point in any exhibition that celebrates photography and dance. She was one of the most influential photographers of all time, and her dance pictures are found in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the George Eastman House, etc. Morgan describes form as “the memory of spiritual content” asserting that “form and content meet in action.” Having photographed these actions in her studio, capturing Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham for example, Morgan’s pictures are visually captivating and historically conclusive. They bewitch the viewer by intimately evoking the emotion and movement of each dancer, sometimes using a double image technique to show how movement changes throughout the course of a single dance piece.
More contemporarily, yet maintaining the same aesthetic of early dance photography, Ken Browar and Deborah Ory have combined their passions for photography and dance to develop the “NYC Dance Project,” a series of photographs committed to showcasing the art of dance and the accomplished dancers from the American Ballet Theatre, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, New York City Ballet, Martha Graham Dance Company, and the Royal Ballet, who use their bodies as language, communicating through movement. Perfectly synthesizing motion and stillness, the duo seizes instances where dancers are taking flight or resting firmly on their toes. With agility and beauty, the dancers in combination with the talents of two photographers, create images with the semblance of balance that transcend time.
Moving into the realm of sound, photographers such as William Gottleib and Herman Leonard, historically, have established significant relationships with some of the most influential musicians across generations. From Jazz to Rock and Roll to Rhythm and Blues and Pop, these critical, cultural junctures have been documented, shared, and remembered by the masses due to photography and the artists availability either in performance or in the studio. Whether these photographs were generated as an album cover, published as a poster, or featured on the cover of Rolling Stone, these images with the help of mass media, assisted in the magnitude of the musical genre and the glamour that is attached to it.
With an incomparable breadth and versatility to his extensive body of work, Harry Benson has illustrated the likeness of some of the greatest names in the genre of music. Michael Jackson, Janis Joplin, Mick Jagger, The Who, Frank Sinatra, Amy Winehouse, and most notably the Beatles’ have all had the chance to be in front of Benson’s camera. His emotionally moving images have reserved a place in history due in part to their uncanny ability to stop time. Unposed, his photographs are an organic embodiment of the intimacy created between photographer and subject. His pictures are alive in memory and irreplaceable within a world where images are easily recycled. Harry Benson’s photographs reveal his commitment and determination as a photojournalist to document life’s changing events around the world that have played a powerful role in shaping our collective past.
Chronicling artists, musicians, actors, and icons since moving to the United States from South Africa in 1969, Norman Seeff has been attracted to the creative process of very talented individuals, honing in on his own talent to communicate that of others. A self-described “explorer,” Norman Seeff is adventurous behind the camera. Having worked as the Creative Director of United Artist Records, he not only creates photographs, but relationships with everyone who enters the door to his studio and moves into his frame, whether it be Ray Charles, Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe, Tina Turner, or Cher; the list goes on and on. While behind the camera, he conducts interviews with his subjects, and engages in what he calls “sessions,” sometimes asking them to perform, exposing shifts in emotion so that no two images on his contact sheets ever look the same. For Seeff, the end result is more than a photograph, it is an experience about how the creative process evolves.
The Art of Sound and Movement surveys the photographic representations of music and dance, weaving together an illustrious history, using one art form to document another. They are timeless images that not only interpret history but create a context where endless stories unfold. These photographs are catalysts that record and relive the cultural events of dance and music. They initiate dialogues between the past, present, and future. Unparalleled, these images are legends as are the photographers that memorialized them.