Wednesday, July 20, 2011

the difference between getting caught and dancing

Yesterday, we spent six hours in this room. This is the Black Studio at Left Space in San Francisco. It's 3800 square feet, a cavernous cement box with white walls that curve into the floor on one side to create the illusion of a backdrop. There are fans to create the illusion of wind, and lamps that remain disconcertingly dark until the camera goes off. Then the lamps flash, at precisely the right time, and the photograph is flooded with illumination that is completely unlike the stark ambiance that otherwise fills the room. I couldn't get over this trick of technology. I hopped and twisted and flung myself about for six hours in a room that looked like the one in the photograph above. I watched my fellow dancers (the shoot was for a new batch of publicity photos for Liss Fain Dance) do the same. Over and over, a flash of light would go off, but nothing that felt any brighter or more intense than the flash of an ordinary camera.

And then we would look at the photos, beamed nearly instantly to a monitor on a rolling cart, and it was like RJ (Muna) was taking pictures of some other landscape that our eyes were just too slow or insensitive to appreciate. Those curtains, which were beautiful, but ordinary, wrinkled things of muslin or gauze, suddenly became sheets of ink, or paper sails, or strange and buff-colored sculptures, or columns of smoke. The light was golden and soft or so sharp that it sliced into every dip between muscles and bones. And then you looked back at the space and it looked exactly the way it had before, plain and mostly dim with a single strong light to mark the center. You couldn't even guess at how much time had passed since the light stayed exactly the same the entire six hours we were there.

The disorientation was extreme.

There is an enormous difference between moving for a photo shoot and dancing. In the former, you face a cement floor, excruciating repetition, and a merciless eye that captures rather than translates. In the latter, you need to deliver more goods, but you have an audience to talk to, a human brain that takes suggestions and applies connotations. In a photo shoot, you have to evoke movement, trying over and over to do something that can have a minute and static piece extracted from it that will remain beautiful or interesting without the before or the after. It was a weird thing to be reminded of, and it made me admire, more than ever, the work of the very great photographers who manage to invoke entire, open-ended worlds with a single shot.


Anonymous said...

This was lovely to read. I can see how there would be a difference between moving for a photo shoot and dancing. I hadn't considered that, before, but it makes sense.

I really enjoyed the way you described the space and the experience. It left me with a feeling of awe and wonder. ~Ali

Megan Kurashige said...

Thanks, Ali. I should have added the bit about how, most of the time, we were flopping around like sad fish to get a flung-about, falling look in the photos. :-)