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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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The set was massive, an elevated steel deck three feet off the ground. We had three walls painted matte black, as well as a matte black floor. That was very thought out. But inside these three walls and that crazy floor, I really wanted to be surprised.

DPP: Why did you build a deck instead of having the dancers on the studio floor?

Silver: For a couple of reasons. I wanted the experience of having them on stage. I also wanted the feeling of the dancers being enclosed in this space that was a little claustrophobic. But more than anything, it was in order to get the lighting in the right place; the floor had to be off the ground. For the dancers, it felt special. You put a dancer on stage and they transform.

DPP: What did you do in terms of post on the video?

Silver: Stephen chose the music for the video, which really helped. It set the mood. I worked closely with a fantastic editor, Thomas Ramsey. Post for me is as important as the shoot itself. You spend a lot of time "concepting" a shoot, why would you throw it out into the universe? Your postproduction and preproduction require the same amount of care.

DPP: Your background in dance must help you in this work. Did you think you were going to be a professional dancer when you grew up?


For the video, Silver stepped out from behind the camera to become director over a three-camera setup. Because of the gold paint used for the video, Silver preferred to oversee and direct the performers. You can see the final video, "Like Lazarus Did," on her Vimeo page at Vimeo.com/user7642947.
Silver: If I were delusional. I learned very quickly that I didn't have what it took to be a professional dancer—although I cried when I figured it out at age 13. When I realized that I could have something just as rewarding by directing it in a photographic setting, I ran with it. I have an incredibly wonderful career shooting movement with fashion and beauty. My background in dance has allowed me to be a really good photographer. I may have been sad when I was 13, but now I consider myself immensely lucky. I married a professional dancer. I know what it takes—incredible stamina and flexibility and an ability to be extraordinary with your physical being—and I didn't have it.

DPP: Dancers tend to have pretty impressive bodies to photograph.

Silver: That's true, but if you're not helping accentuate it with lighting, then you're not showcasing their physiques. I always use some sort of tripod or camera stand because I like to see the big picture of the performance and use a remote to trigger the shutter. I prefocus and stand next to the camera. When I'm on the Hasselblad, I'm on a remote trigger. I don't even look through the camera. I set it, then I forget it, because I want to see the action. It's about anticipating the moves. You go for the Cartier-Bresson decisive moment.

DPP: His famous decisive moment shot is of a man jumping over a puddle behind the Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris. It looks like a dance movement.

Silver: Dance is a reflection of real life, and real life is movement.

You can see more of Sarah Silver's work at www.sarahsilver.com.

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