Saturday, September 10, 2016

Q&A with Lois Greenfield

Lois Greenfield, photo by Kris LeBoeuf
Lois Greenfield's newest book of dance photography is titled Lois Greenfield: Moving Still. Her other work includes Airborne and Breaking Bounds. Her contemporary dance photographs have appeared in galleries and museums for more than 30 years. She is based in New York City.

Q: How did this new book of your dance photography come about, and how did you select the images to include?

A: This is my third book, all with the same curator, William A. Ewing. I met him in the ‘70s when he was the director of the International Center of Photography in NYC.  He gave me my first museum show there, and we have had a very long and fruitful collaboration.

Lois Greenfield: Moving Still, with dancers Andrew Claus, Eileen Jaworowicz, and Aileen Roehl
Bill is also the designer. With the three books we did together, he made interesting juxtapositions on facing pages. It wasn’t just picture, picture, picture. In the first two books he divided the photos into thematic chapters. 

In Lois Greenfield: Moving Still he had a more freewheeling approach, without chapter titles.

This book is three times the size of my other books. Bill and I went through 30,000 images, some shot on film as well as those shot digitally. We printed out 2 in. x 2 in. images of all the photos we both wanted to consider.  We didn’t always agree on the ones he chose, but I saw the logic, in fact the genius, of what he chose when he started finding matched pairs.

Airborne, with dancers Kathryn Crockett, Rika Okamoto, and Camille M. Brown
There is a dialogue between the pictures on facing pages. The juxtapositions often read as a narrative continuum from the left page to the right page, when it’s actually dancers from different dance companies.  Sometimes Bill just wanted to find a horizontal line in the dancers’ forms going through both pages.

The new book includes brand-new work as well as some throwback images. It’s kind of a retrospective. Breaking Bounds came out in 1992 and Airborne in 1998. The pictures are generally post-Airborne, and there are very few black and whites in this book…

Breaking Bounds, with dancers Daniel Ezralow and Ashley Rowland
Q:  So beyond the pairs, how did you decide on the order in which the photographs would appear in the book?

A: I can’t say it was haphazard, because it was planned, but it was not planned to have an order…You can’t have too many similar photos together.

Q: In her Washington Post review of your book, Sarah L.Kaufman writes, "Greenfield coaxes from them [the dancers] a seductive balance of wildness and calm." What are you looking for when you take a photograph?

Jye-Hwei Lin
A: I’m really looking to make a magical, poetic moment. Nothing to do with a performance. I don’t plan my photos in advance, or go into the session with any fixed idea or layout.

That’s what’s so exciting for me. The pictures are collaborations with the dancers. They take me beyond my imagination. If I knew what the photo was going to look like, I wouldn’t bother to take the picture.

Much of the process is out of my control--the way a scarf lofts in the air, the reflections caught in my mirrors, etc. I always want the dancer to look as though there is a purpose to her movements, an implicit narrative that the viewer imagines. The dancers’ soft expressions and gestures are the most important.

Natalie Deryn Johnson
Q: Can you discuss the changes in your work?

A: I am very excited about my newest series, which I have titled “One to One.”  Instead of dancers caught in mid-flight, they are grounded and set against a dark background, with a single overhead light.

The solo dancers are improvising, as if in a private moment. Sometimes they are caught in a whirlwind of scarves, or feathers or strings... We print these photos 3 feet by 4 feet, revealing subtle details that are only visible at that scale.

The viewer’s engagement with these large-format images is as though they were entering the dancer’s space and watching the movements as they happen. One third of the photos included in Lois Greenfield: Moving Still are from this series.

Paul Zivkovich
Q: How did you get involved with dance photography?

A: I stumbled into dance photography when I was a photojournalist working for newspapers in the 1970s. But I didn’t want to just document what the audience could see on the stage.

Instead I wanted to fuse my medium—photography--with my subject matter—dance--to capture moments and create images that could only be seen as a photograph—a perfect merger of two somewhat incompatible art forms.

Dance happens in space and time, and is meant to exist as a flow. Photography is a guillotine that captures one second. It transforms the moving dancer into sculpture.

Anna Venizelos and Sara Joel
In order to pursue this approach, I brought dancers to my photography studio where they could experiment for the camera.
For 20 years I was working for the Village Voice, and my editor encouraged this exploration of capturing movement happening so fast that the eye can’t see it.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: We are still very involved with the book. We had the first of the exhibitions coordinated with the book at Jacob’s Pillow. It’s going now to St. Petersburg, Russia, and Shenzhen, China.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A:  I don’t use photoshop to combine or reconfigure images. All my shots are single frame, in camera photos. I use the same  manual Hasselblad camera that I had since the ‘80s,  and I shoot only one image at a time.

I do not shoot in bursts, but wait and choose the exact split second I want and shoot that. Then I ask the dancer to regroup and do that phrase, or something different, again and again.

I give small group workshops in my studio. I bring in dancers that I work with, and the photographers use my Hasselblad camera and Broncolor strobes.

The most exciting part for me is that the photographers, whether they are beginners or professional, get to discover and enhance their own creative process.

Also, my Breaking Bounds wall calendar, published by Chronicle Books, which was published for 20 years, is now back, and on sale. The calendar actually starts in September 2016 and runs through the end of 2017.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

1 comment:

  1. These images are breathtaking. It's hard to believe they're single-shot images, especially in this age of "hold down the digital camera button and hope for the best." Thank you for sharing your process!