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Sarah Silver: Putting Motion In Motion

Sarah Silver’s annual collaboration with the Stephen Petronio Company is taking a fresh new turn as the photographer incorporates motion capture in the project


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Incorporating motion into her work in more ways than one, Sarah Silver worked video into her annual shoot with the esteemed Stephen Petronio Company dance group for the first time. Silver is known for combining dance portraiture with fashion, and she used her skills with kinetic photography to capture a set of high-impact stills before switching to video for the final aspect of the shoot, an almost orgiastic exploration of movement and dance that follows the troupe as they writhe seductively through gold paint. They had only one take before the set was ruined.

Creative collaborations can yield magic, proven on a yearly basis in the images resulting from photographer Sarah Silver and choreographer Stephen Petronio's shoots. Two heads and four feet are better than one and two of the same appendages, as this dynamic duo proves.

Silver's fascination with photography began as a child in her grandfather's studio darkroom. Studying classical and modern dance from an equally young age instilled a deep appreciation for that art form. After completing her Bachelor's Degree in Middle Eastern Studies at Vassar College, Silver decided to pursue her artistic passions in the graduate photography program at the School of Visual Arts in New York.

While finishing her Master's Degree, Silver shot a fashion spread using dancers for Surface magazine's Avant Guardian issue. She then incorporated the Stephen Petronio Company in her graduate thesis. The two fashion stories from that early collaboration yielded tear sheets in magazines including Vogue Italia, Elle and The New York Times, as well as a yearly project to create visuals for Petronio.

On occasion, Silver makes it to the other side of the camera, appearing on Bravo Network's reality series Make Me A Supermodel (Episode Two) and America's Next Top Model photographing "The Vampire Episode."

DPP: What was the evolution of your work with choreographer extraordinaire Stephen Petronio?

Sarah Silver: My coming-of-age photo shoot was for the Petronio Company for my graduate thesis from SVA here in New York City. I approached Stephen. He gave me, this 23-year-old student, a chance to shoot a professional dance company wearing fashion. It was the birth of this yearly project, the latest being the eleventh I've done with them.

DPP: How does that work?

Silver: Because I'm given such free rein and because Stephen is such a fantastic collaborator. I take what I do for them every year and let it trickle down into what I do the rest of the year. It colors what I do for fashion and beauty shoots, not the other way around. He shaped my career. He has this great ability to communicate with other creatives—he has collaborated with everybody from Lou Reed and Cindy Sherman to the sculpture maker Anish Kapoor. He has an amazing history as a performer and is very heavy into fashion. He's a trendsetter in many areas. For this year's shoot, we did video for the first time for this dance company.

Stephen Petronio Dance Company - Like Lazarus Did
By Sarah Silver
Stephen Petronio Dance Company - Like Lazarus Did

As a student of classical and modern dance herself, Silver is familiar with how to capture the Stephen Petronio Dance Company's movement expression through the still image. But Silver looks at photography as a larger visual language that expands into movement itself through video. During this year's collaboration with the company she directed the provacative, body paint-filled video 'Like Lazarus Did'. Using a three-camera set up, Silver ensured she would catch every paint swipe, smooth hand gesture and twisted body as the group had only one take before the set was destroyed by the gold paint.

DPP: How did you insert the moving image into your workflow?

Silver: I've been doing it for a couple of years now. I realized that photographers that don't do it—I won't say they're becoming dinosaurs—but they're painting themselves into a corner. Being a photographer, being visual, isn't a language of stills anymore. We, as photographers, have the vision and have the voice. Now that we've been given the tools, we have to train that voice. We have to run with it.

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