DPP Home Profiles Douglas Dubler: Master Of Balletic Motion

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Douglas Dubler: Master Of Balletic Motion

Douglas Dubler’s work with dance and ballet began almost 40 years ago. His latest images capture the beauty of the art through meticulous timing, lighting and artistic vision.

This Article Features Photo Zoom
In the 1970s, Dubler didn't have powerful tools like Photoshop to create a sense of movement and sharpness. Instead, he did everything in-camera using zoom lenses and long shutter speeds.

Motion and stillness—two elements of the dance that must be carefully balanced and interwoven to create compelling choreography, and that must somehow be captured and expressed in compelling dance photography. While readers of this magazine know Douglas Dubler for his striking fashion and beauty work, he also has been experimenting with new ways to portray the movement of dance for more than three decades.

The images on these pages show Douglas Dubler's interest in ballet photography from early work in the 1970s with the Cincinnati Ballet (on the right) to his current project with the American Ballet Theatre and Irina Dvorovenko (on the left).
When asked about influences on his motion photography, Dubler recalls the bullfight photographs by Ernst Haas taken in the 1950s. Haas used long exposures to blur the colorful spectacle and imbue it with a flowing sensation of the movement of matador, cape and bull. As well as recording time, Dubler saw this approach as adding three dimensionality to a two-dimensional medium, an impression he seeks to impart in his own motion work, albeit via different techniques.

In the 1970s, the photographer traveled with the Cincinnati Ballet for several months. Photographing during performances using only stage lighting, Dubler recalls, "The cameras, lenses and films in those days were all slow, so I had to do long exposures, both handheld and on a tripod. When Nikon introduced their 80-200mm ƒ/4.5, I began to use it for dance work, zooming during part of the exposure, but pausing without zooming at either the beginning or end of the zoom in order to get some sharpness combined with movement. To me, sharpness and motion in the same frame best evoke the dance."

Earlier this year, inspired by the film Black Swan, Dubler decided to apply his motion and lighting techniques to ballet in the studio, where he would have full control.

"In the past, I had been bored with the sharp, frozen images that the ballet companies wanted," he notes. He contacted the American Ballet Theatre, ABT, and ultimately he sought out Principal Dancers Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky, both of whom were classically trained in the Ukraine and joined the ABT in the mid-1990s.

"Whoever I'm photographing, whether a model or a dancer, I always work with the best. It both inspires you and allows you to participate in a dialogue with the subject to create the best work," he affirms. "This applies to the support staff as well—the digital technicians, hair, makeup, stylists and assistants."
My concept with these dancers was not only to do the moving images, but to also combine them in some kind of a sequence via a composite, to take it to another level," says Dubler. "So during the shoot, I was both creating stand-alone shots, as well as images that would work well with one another.
To combine stillness and motion with these two top ABT dancers, Dubler combined continuous light and action-stopping electronic flash. For the background, he used continuous HMI lights, Kobold 800s, their daylight color balance matched to the studio flash packs. Each of two HMIs was set at either side to illuminate the white sweep background at about a 45º angle. However, the HMI light on the right side of the set was aimed through a large cucoloris or "cookie," a 4x4-foot opaque panel with irregular-shaped holes. This cast a subtle abstract pattern of shadows on the backdrop, adding atmosphere and a touch of mystery.


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