Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Past & Presence

Douglas Dubler created a historical and artistic project that was ideally suited to the unique qualities of the legendary Polaroid 20x24 camera

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"I met Rachelle through her mother, Diane, who has been involved in the New York dance world, and who told me her daughter was going to attend the JKO school on a scholarship," says Dubler. He had seen some photographs of the young Di Stasio, "and I thought, interesting, and filed that away in my mind."

With the general idea of working on the 20x24 camera, and his own experience photographing dancers, Dubler began to conceive of a project involving this ingénue ballerina.

"I had a meeting with Rachelle and her mother to discuss the concept. You know, I didn't know if she could do this, I didn't know how she'd work with the camera or with me, because I was looking for something a little different, not the standard dance photographs. But she had some experience being photographed, which was helpful. At any rate, she was fabulous in front of the camera."

The young dancer was excited about the opportunity to work on such an unusual project. "When I first heard the idea, I thought it would be amazing to be a part of history like this," she says, "but it was definitely a challenge."

Dubler recognized that any new artistic approach would be a gamble, especially working with the large camera, where prints would be unique and fixed—and expensive. With very little black-and-white film remaining, the artist has to put himself on a strict exposure budget. There was no question, once the project started, of reworking shots or doing anything over again. But Dubler knows his craft, and has the experience and vision required to move into new areas of expression. So this was a calculated gamble.

"And she's a great dancer, a beautiful young girl, and I could tell at our meeting that she understood what I was after," says the photographer. "And once we shot a first Polaroid, I knew this was going to work out. I've been doing this long enough; I can tell if the model is engaged in the job, can tell how it's going to work—and this ability to anticipate is especially crucial in working with this camera, where you don't get 'just another shot.' When I saw her working on that first shot, I knew we had a good day ahead of us."
Dubler is quite explicit about the balance between technical preparation and the photographer's art. He sees technique—and instrumentation, like lighting, backdrop and so forth—as a necessary feature he can develop to serve the principal purpose
of his work.
"There was no testing, of course," says Di Stasio. "We only had five black-and-white frames available. So we would practice everything. Douglas would work with me on facial expressions, hand gestures. So we did a lot of processing before each picture was taken."

Dubler met with his team, the stylist and makeup artist, explaining his perspective and what sort of details he wanted for the shot. "I spoke with Sylvia Pichler, with whom I've worked for 20 years. She has invented airbrush techniques for putting designs right on the model's skin. Sylvia created a small white stencil—a stylized filigree—to airbrush onto Rachelle's cheek for a little different effect," he says.


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