Poetry, Dance and Photography

poetry, dance and photography - aesthetic collisions?

You could argue that a specific 'language' lies at the heart of each of these art forms. They have their own special 'vocabulary' with which to express the inexpressible. Each in their own way form 'impressions' in our mind, encapsulating the essence of some distilled human experience, causing us to react emotionally or logically to the work.

Poetry uses the language of words, style and form;  Dance, the language of movement, style and form; Photography, the language of light, shade, geometry and composition. When looked at in that way then, it's easy to see their commonalities, in terms of their fundamentals and effects, rather than the differences in the methods and medium they employ; starkly obvious though they are.

And so it was, in an effort to visualise a famous work of one of my favourite poets, Ted Hughes, that I came upon the opportunity to do just that. I attended a Dance Photography Masterclass, held by Nicola Selby, where I was asked for my particular objectives for the sessions. Having made no plan, I was temporarily at a loss, until the idea of bringing to life one of Ted Hughes' poems struck me. The particular work was 'Crow'.

Crow is somewhat difficult to grasp, even when you've read it many times. It's often described as a reworking of the biblical Genesis story - with a great deal of 'twist'. And therein lies its fascination. To visualise it you would have to be very selective about which elements of the story to work with, in order to do it any justice - if that's the right word.

Nicola was game however, so I briefly described as best I could the general thrust and she was kind enough to suggest I work with Amy Eccleston, a dancer with both classical and modern dance training who was excellent at 'improvisation'.

Since the lighting was already set up for high key work, we decided to shoot two sessions, one high and one low-key session, covering a short sequence of improvisation with Amy following my 'direction', which consisted of me loudly reinterpreting the poet's words by shouting, at Amy, 'key' concepts abstracted from Hughes' lines while she worked hard to interpret the flow of ideas in her dance movements. I can only fully applaud Amy for the very considerable patience and professionalism and hard work she put into those sessions.

With Nicola's help we worked together to interpret the storyline, framework and language of the poem, interpreting those ideas emotionally and then expressing them physically in dance movements, and finally creating images to encapsulate the impact of the work in a strong, visual form.

Far from 'aesthetic collisions' then, we found a continuum of artistic expression - from word to movement to image. Quite an experiment! Here are selected images from the initial high-key session:

 Crow emerges from the Void - from God's Nightmare

Crow emerges from the Void - from God's Nightmare

 
 transforming from shape to shape - Crow absorbs consciousness

transforming from shape to shape - Crow absorbs consciousness

 
 reaching upward in fear - or is it loathing? - Crow realises its purpose

reaching upward in fear - or is it loathing? - Crow realises its purpose

 
 Crow rises up, and gives life to God's Nightmare

Crow rises up, and gives life to God's Nightmare

 
 realising its power - Crow descends upon Man - to wreak destruction

realising its power - Crow descends upon Man - to wreak destruction

This was a fascinating piece to explore. It was very clear at the end of the first session that a low-key treatment was more fitting, so we adopted that approach in the second session. Those images will follow a little later. For those interested in the technical aspects of the equipment we used -there were only two Broncolor lights; one main flash and focus box set high on the left of the studio at 45%, aimed downward towards the dancer and one fill light set high on the right.

The camera was a Hasselblad H4D-31 fitted with a Hasselblad HC-80 lens set at f3.0. Nicola Selby's Studio can be found here, and she is also represented on Hasselblad's site here.