DPP Home Profiles Douglas Kirkland: The Art of Dance

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Douglas Kirkland: The Art of Dance

As one of his great personal and professional passions, Douglas Kirkland reflects on his past, present and future dance photography

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Kirkland was surrounded by a sizeable group of press and television cameras who wanted to watch the American photographer take photographs of their icon, The Bolshoi’s Svetlana Zakharova.
DPP: And never more so than the work you’ve done with the extraordinary Erika Lemay. Describe what it’s like to work with her?

Kirkland: Erika is a brilliant and rare performer. She’s an aerialist and has pushed the art of dance to new levels. She trains six hours a day. Her body is her instrument. The first photographs we did became an Italian Vanity Fair story, and we became close working associates and friends. She’s one of my favorite subjects. I have tremendous respect and admiration for her ability as a performer and her grace and elegance. As part of our working together, we decided to collaborate on a video, “Objet du Désir,” which we eventually ended up shooting with the new Canon EOS-1D Mark IV.

DPP: How was putting together a video project with full motion different than shooting stills where you’re working to convey the impression of motion? What mental and technical adjustments did you have to make?

Kirkland: In the late ’60s, I started shooting commercials and documentaries, so I know the vocabulary of cinema—cutaways, smoothness and so on. It’s not just a question of buying a hybrid camera and turning it on. Ultimately, you have to learn about cutting and how the pieces fit together. I used an old Miller tripod with a fluid head, which is very important when shooting video. I also handheld quite a bit. A loupe on the back or an external monitor is mandatory to shoot video—there’s no way to just look at the screen. I had someone pulling focus for me using the Redrock Micro FollowFocus. I used three Canon lenses. Most of it was done with the 24-105mm, but I also used a 16-35mm and a 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 for a couple of shots.

DPP: How did you do the lighting for the video shoot?

Kirkland: We had two 2Ks behind Erika and one 750 watt directly in front. If I had needed anymore power, we would have had to bring in a generator truck because of the limitation of electricity at the site I was working at. Because we were able to use ISO 1600 and 3200 with the EOS-1D Mark IV, the generator truck wasn’t necessary. The ability to shoot high ISOs with low noise has emancipated us!

We shot in a rehearsal studio downtown that’s used for people doing aerial work; it’s not a place used for filming. That’s why we had limited access to power. Neal Everett, who runs the place, is an aerialist himself. Safety is a very big deal, of course. This isn’t only about their careers, but their lives. So while the electricity wasn’t good, the rest worked very well.


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