Júlio de Matos Photography



In his 1975 book “The Magic Image” (A Imagem fotográfica – os génios da fotografia desde 1839 até aos nossos dias) Cecil Beaton writes on ballet photography (pages 294 – 301): This genre “has always been remarkably difficult; few photographers have been successful in recreating the magic that we enjoy when we see the dancers from the audience.”

In fact, the “snapshot” or pose on the stage has often turned out to be a limited process when it comes to convey the mystery of ballet. Photographers who are aware of this reality have resorted to various ploys to accomplish this aim.

The most classical process has been to isolate the dance and the dancer from their context and take them to a studio where all lighting factors can be controlled; in the 1920s, Baron Adolfo DeMeyer photographed dancers such as Nijinsky in his Paris studio. Irving Penn and Richard Avedon, in New York, also transferred dance from the stage to photographic studios.

Others attempted to deepen the relationship with the individual practitioner of this art, like the photographer Barbara Morgan, also in the USA, who devoted five years of her career to photographing the dancer Martha Graham. This work was published in 1941 in the book “Martha Graham – Sixteen Dances in Photographs”. After this project and more recently, she has extensively photographed Mercê Cunningham and other notable dancers of the American artistic scene. Barbara uses the photographic technique in a straight approach to the subject, but frequently using multiple exposures.

In fact, it is through photographic technical ingenuity that we find some of the most significant contributions to ballet photography. Penn used paper negatives combined with half-long exposures to photograph Markova and Nureyev in 1961. Avedon, known as a fashion portraitist and photographer, isolated Nureyev in space by using stroboscopic light.

Walter Boje, a German photographer who produced a body of ballet photographs, used long exposures with colour film, as shown in the book “Magie der Farbe”, published in 1960. High grain black and white film was the unusual and remarkable solution that Max Waldman used in 1966 to convey the unsettling sensation of raw eroticism of the nude ballets of the “Marat-Sade” mise-en-scène.

Júlio de Matos
Rochester, 1981

© 2009-2017 All Photographs and texts by Júlio de Matos | All rights reserved | © Júlio de Matos, 2009-2017