Using Yolande Yorke-Egell’s portrayal of Marilyn Munroe to show the power of photography

Yolande Yorke-Edgell dancing as Marylin Monroe in Noted with a sculpture by Sally McKay
All images: Yolande Yorke-Edgell dancing as Marylin Monroe in Noted with a sculpture by Sally McKay

Power of Photography Series #1 (#2, #3)

My photographs of Yolande Yorke-Edgell dancing as Marylin Monroe by a sculpture by Sally McKay on an otherwise empty stage has given me the opportunity to talk about one of the things that intrigue me; the power the professional dance photographer has over the way a performance is seen. While the better photographer should – I hope – be totally aware of this power, someone who is less able and doesn’t have that awareness would nevertheless influence those who see their chosen image through the way that they had composed and processed what they had seen through the lens.

The first image above, which pushes attention to the dancer (Ms Yorke-Edgell) gives the impression that the dancer herself is far more important than whatever else is on the stage. This is done by keeping only the dancer  in focus, then processing it so that she is far lighter and brighter than the sculpture. The composition implies that the dancer is reflecting the pain expressed by the sculpture while effectively dancing with it. While it is clear that both dancer and sculpture reflect Marilyn Monroe’s pain at her incarceration, Ms Yorke-Edgell was at the opposite end of the stage during most of the performance. This shot captures the closest she got to the sculpture, and was one of only three times in the entirety of the choreography that she approached it close enough for  me to capture both with my 50m prime lens.

Yolande Yorke-Edgell dancing as Marilyn Munroe in Noted, part of Words Worth at the Lilian Baylis Studio

I chose stage right to take my images from, as I wanted a shot where something in the dancers’ movement echoed that of the sculpture which I wanted in the foreground so that someone casually glancing at the shot would understand what was happening. This image does that – the dancer is in a position that very nearly reflects that of the sculpture – but it’s still pretty naff. The composition doesn’t allow the eye to travel, there appears to be more movement in the static sculpture than the dancer and the overall impression given is quite boring. That it expresses the emptiness danced in the performance is irrelevant, the shot just doesn’t work.

Yolande Yorke-Edgell dancing as Marilyn at the Lilian Baylis Theatre with shadow and sculpture visible

In this shot I’ve kept both dancer and sculpture in focus and have processed the sculpture to look closer to the colour it would be, had it not been so dark in the auditorium. This draws attention to the sculpture first and only then does the eye travel to the dancer (you’ll see that in this shot her back echoes the sculptures lines). Yorke-Edgell’s silhouette is also visible in this shot, which makes the whole thing more interesting and gives an effect far truer to the performance, as the dancer appeared to work in isolation, facing the back of the stage far more than the audience and, as I’ve said, at the opposite end of the stage to the sculpture.

I have lots more to say about this and will continue the theme, along with illustrative photographs over future posts. Meanwhile I’d love to hear what you think.

The theme of this post is developed here