Becoming a Dance Photographer: Excitement at a Photocall

Moody geometry made by people. It's dark, the first thing you see is a symetrical zig-zag shape going upwards, as mirror image like as people can be. It is only after seeing this that you notice two heads, one on each side of the zig zag and another in darkness in the middle.

Geometrie Variable at Sadler’s Wells Sampled, London. (c) Julia-Carolin Zeng and DanceGRiST February 2020. Géométrie Variable is a French dance group consisting of Sadeck Waff Berrabah, Bouzid Ait-Atmane, Ammar Benbouzid, and Kanon Ghetto-Style.

 

Experienced dancers and photojournalists probably don’t get excited about photocalls. For me, it’s a whole new world.

My very first photo call, in November 2019, was at the ice rink in front of the Natural History Museum in Kensington. My objective was to capture The Snowman on ice.

My very first London photocall

I felt a bit intimidated by the other photographers. They all had multiple cameras hanging from their bodies with lenses of different sizes. I’m still shooting on the same camera I learned with. It’s an old Sony Alpha 580 that I inherited from my dad when he got himself a new one. Although I’m planning to upgrade soon, I must say that it has never let me down. It is a great camera to learn photography on without all the fancy fluff that makes photography seem easy.

 

The second photocall

My second photo call was a few weeks later at the famous Sadler’s Wells, Islington. We had been invited to shoot the dress rehearsal for Sadler’s Wells Sampled. This is a preview-mix of the performances to be seen throughout the year. Again, I felt a bit intimidated when I saw the other photographers setting up their tripods. I hadn’t brought mine (and Carole-my occasional photographic mentor- says she never uses one). All I had in my hand was my little Sony. This turned out to be a blessing. Without a tripod I could move freely to capture the dancers from different perspectives wherever they were on the stage.

It was an exciting feeling. I felt slightly rebellious. To shoot live dance in a large famous theatre is usually not allowed. Every performance lasted around 20 minutes. I spent a total of almost two hours shooting in front of the stage.

Sadler’s Wells Sampled 2020: Géometrie Variable, Camila Alegre & Ezequiel Lopez, Botis Seva, Machine de Cirque, Wayne McGregor Company, Shree Savani, La Horde (from top left to bottom right)

The whole shoot was a challenge. I am not yet accustomed to taking photos in those light conditions, or of shooting different dance styles at so many different speeds. But it also confirmed that I had learned a thing or two about photography.

The third photocall

On a rainy mid-week afternoon at The Coronet Theatre in Notting Hill I attended a Russel Maliphant photocall. (Photocalls take different locations in London.) I liked the rustic charm of the theatre and whilst all the photographers were waiting for some construction workers to remove their tools from the stage, a strange vibe spread through the room. I’m usually an outgoing person and very talkative in a group of strangers, but something told me not to. I didn’t know the other photographers, nor the publications they were shooting for, but it felt as if there was a lot of competition between them and I didn’t want to interfere.

We shot The Space Between by Maliphant. It was going to be very dark in the theatre (even darker than normal) because light reflections were an important part of the show. The person who organised the photocall tried to help, suggesting places where it might be best to shoot. However it was still best to find the right spot myself.

Maliphant and Fouras in The Space Between.

Shooting dance at a photocall gives a very steep learning curve, even with the theory I’ve learned. Carole says it’s a ‘baptism by fire’ and ‘the only way to really understand dance photography is to understand each dance form so you know what to expect and to shoot as much dance as you can’. I’m up for it!  I’m looking forward to many more opportunities, whether photocalls, studio shots or on-location flashmobs. I’ll learn as I go and share what I know. In so doing I look forward to visiting as many different places as I possibly can.