As much as I loved and was impressed by Guy Bourdin’s work in Part Two, another artist that I came across and have always loved the work of is Lois Greenfield. I absolutely love her images and her depiction of movement through her images. I decided to do research on Lois Greenfield separately as I wanted to learn more about her technique and how she makes her images. Hence this dedicated post about her as my research led me to some behind the scene videos and several interviews in which she has talked about her techniques and process. I appreciate famous photographers who do not mind sharing how they made the images versus the ones who dont. I think sharing and imparting knowledge is such a great thing to do and besides inspiring someone, it does give them a genuine chance to experiment instead of just wondering how one captured that image. I am extremely influenced by her work. I think its magical and I want to take it further in the coming assignments.
Based out of NewYork, Lois Greenfield has been capturing movement in its most elegant and evocative forms. Having started and worked for ten years documenting various dance performances across different theatres, Greenfield felt that she needed to create her own art rather than merely documenting dance, which is another person’s art. Having learnt and experienced theatre dance photography for such a long period, she was ready to have dancers collaborate with her to create movement and postures in her studio under her direction, creating a hybrid between movements and capturing those movements in a frame, that defied gravity and produced remarkable and spectacular images which cannot be seen with the naked human eye (Lamb, 2020).
I am looking at dance from another perspective, that of a photographer. I am translating their movements from the stage to the camera, l’m not looking at dance the way it was intended to be seen. My goal is not to represent dancers but to collaborate with them outside the constraints of
choreography. Freed from the circumscribed steps in a dance, the dancers I work with improvise, knowing that I will pick up moments that are expressive, even though not part of a dance.
As per Lois Greenfield, she is quite old fashioned in making her images, which she does with her old and trusted manual Hasselblad V-system camera (with digital back). All her images are single exposures and in an interview she said that she tries and captures the moment just before or after its peak, to capture that magical moment when the dancers expressions seem relaxed and effortless.
The movement that she captures is at a precise instant of 1/2000th of a second, freezing the graceful passage of time that is so important for her, into a beautiful and fluid frame of different elements that fit together to make her frames appear ethereal. The greatest thing about her images are that she does not believe in any kinds of tricks or manipulations into that single moment. All that you see in her final frame is what has been created in the camera, maybe after a hundred tries, but within the camera. She does not use the continuous speed mode or the burst mode to freeze her action – every movement that she chooses to capture is her selection of that precise one moment out of the movement phrase, making the dancers regroup to make that movement again and again till its perfectly captured (NADEAU, 2019)
“I’ve spent the last 40 years of my photographic career investigating movement and its expressive potential. My inspiration has always been photography’s ability to stop time and reveal what the naked eye cannot see. What intrigues me is making images that confound and confuse the viewer, but that the viewer knows, or suspects, really happened. The ostensible subject of my photographs may be motion, but the subtext is time. A dancer’s movements illustrate the passage of time, giving it a substance, materiality, and space. In my photographs, time is stopped, a split second becomes an eternity, and an ephemeral moment is as solid sculpture. I prefer to work outside the constraints of choreography, collaborating with dancers on improvised, non-repeatable, often high-risk moments.”(Greenfield)
Her core philosophy is to keep the lighting fairly simple to allow her to cover a broad area of movement. For the longest time she used power packs for most of her photographic requirements. Lately, however, she also started to work with monolights, especially the Broncolor’s Siros monolight that she finds well suited to her work in terms of flash duration, recycling and light output. The 1/2000th of a second shutter speed that she uses to freeze that fluid movement into a frame is is essentially a function of the Broncolor lighting gear she uses. To deliver the needed light, she uses bi-tube heads, that are capable of delivering twice the output of a traditional single tube flash head, enabling her to shoot at extremely short flash durations. As a studio photographer, her lighting is determined in conjunction with what the dancer is going to do. Her backdrop is about 20-feet-wide and 30-feet in depth to the camera position. Her preference for sculptural lighting, which simply means that it’s a three-quarter lighting angle but also spreads out over the entire area (Neubart, 2017).
Keeping the light simple does not necessarily mean working with one light though. Even though there may be one light on the dancers or even one light illuminating several dancers, but the backdrop, which plays a crucial role, has also to be thought of. Additional strobes are often positioned on both sides of the backdrop at about a ¾ stop lighter than the key light to create a white background. The lighting on the backdrop is kept separately from the dancers and is not allowed to spill over by use of a cutter. “That backdrop may be lit fully in a wash of light from right and left, or the light may be gradated, falling off in one direction or another. Or it may remain black. But it’s always a pivotal component, giving the dancer a springboard of sorts” (Neubart, 2017).
Her lighting today, like in her latest series “One to One,” involves the usage of an overhead gridded beauty dish, casting a very narrow circle of light to ensure the visibility of the dancer; any movement affecting the light falling on the subject. But the positive side of this movement may result in some unexpected outcomes like the elements on the set gradually fading away, adding dimension to the shot and making it more intriguing. Her settings are consistent: ISO 50, 1/250th shutter speed (sync speed) and, for better depth of field, an aperture between f/5.6-f/8. (Neubart, 2017).
She manually focuses on a predetermined spot, marked for the dancers, and she shoots only one frame at a time, usually with a 120mm CF Makro-Planar f/4 lens (approximate 35mm-equivalent of 76mm). She shoots tethered so she can see simultaneously check the composition, focus and details like the dancer’s expression and gestures (Sheard, 2020)
Lois Greenfield, on being asked about how her photographs can’t help but be reminded of Eadweard Muybridge’s human locomotion images, says that unlike Muybridge, she is not looking to analyse the mechanics of a jump but like him interested in capturing moments that are beyond the threshold of human perception, only recordable by the camera. She is interested in capturing the evocative nature of that movement where her dancers appear to be floating and seem angelic (Lamb, 2020)
She is extremely particular in terms of composition, and is interested in balancing both the shapes and the relationship between the dancer’s forms, as well as the details of their gesture. As far as capturing the decisive moment, she says ” since I am photographing split seconds of movement, 1/2000 of a second to be exact, I have to anticipate what the movement will look like and press the shutter before it happens. If I wait to see the moment, I will have missed it. The documentary photographer has the luxury of seeing the shot before deciding the click the shutter.” And this is what distinguishes and sets her apart in this medium. She also NEVER uses photoshop to create, add or edit her images. (Lamb, 2020)
I am interested in making the reality magical, as opposed to manipulating am image so that it looks magical.(Greenfeld)
Her tips to other photographers and her students is basically that its ok not to “know” what you are doing before you start and inspiration can come anytime during the shoot, especially when you are not worrying about it!
I am more into creative process than creative product. If I knew what the image looked like before I took it, I would end up with far less interesting images than I do. My process of discovery as I shoot leads to photographs that are beyond my imagination.(Greenfield)
She goes on to explain her thought process effectively in an interview where she says that if you see the moment in dance photography you have missed it. Her way of working is always anticipating the movement, for which there are no rules and only instinct that will help you. She feels its easy to teach how to capture the peak of the moment, however, what interests her is are the split-second moments before or after the so called “peak,” as there are subtle emotional nuances in these split micro-moments. She is intrigued and fascinated by the subtleties of different narratives emerging from the same series of jumps (Eodice, 2011)
Here are a few photos with explanations of how they were made in Greenfield’s own words, which I think greatly adds to our understanding of how she creates these magical moments:
“I was commissioned to create an image for the JVC Jazz Festival. My idea was to have a dancer fly in like an angel to make the music. This photo was taken during the casting session. To achieve this shot, the double bass was stabilised by an assistant, who released it when the dancer’s hands were on the fret and stood poised to keep the instrument from falling as the dancer let go. Pacho came dressed for the part and, after a few Polaroids, I knew enough to put in a roll of film to capture this miraculous moment!“
“I have been fascinated with photographing mirrors since my early days as a photojournalist. The camera offers the viewer a single perspective, but a mirror in the photograph gathers ‘off-screen space’, nesting simultaneous yet different viewpoints within the picture’s frame.“
“It’s always a challenge to transpose the signature quality of a dance performed in the theater into my studio. On the stage, Wu-Kang was in a huge cage, dancing in a storm of shredded newspapers blown by thirty-six industrial electric fans. During the photo session in my studio, I wanted him to stay relatively still amidst the flurry. At one point, his face was totally obscured by the flying papers, and he seemed to embody a human tornado.“
Some other works of her explained:
In this particular shot for Eric Taylor Dance company, Greenfield has opted for a white background without lighting it. All lighting is specifically aimed on the dancers, beginning with a Satellite Soft coming from camera left, with a flag to prevent the light from spilling onto the backdrop. A vertical strip light with a grid was positioned right behind the key light for a wraparound sidelight.
A gridded beauty dish from directly overhead (on a boom) came in on the dancer. “He threw one Styrofoam sphere up into the air before going into a headstand. I had assistants on each side tossing additional balls into the shot timed with this movement—he could only hold the position for a fraction of a second. It only took a few takes to arrive at a perfectly coordinated composition of dancer and props.”
The dancer was positioned against a seamless black backdrop. As she’s jumping into the air, she’s tossing powder, as are Greenfield’s assistants. The photographer timed the shot to catch the dancer as she’s descending. “I like to get the shot when the dancer is almost landing. I never like that peak moment where they’re enveloped in stillness up in the air.” Lighting the set is one umbrella light at a three-quarter angle from camera left.
The dancer is sitting on silvered Mylar mirrors, with two mirrors behind her forming an L-flat. An umbrella light is coming from the left, with the mirrors doing their magic as fill lights.
In this shot two lights (one top, one bottom) from each side created a wash of light and a pure white backdrop for the dancers. An umbrella from camera left provides the key light on the foreground.
I am on a quest for a perfect moment, in which the conjunction of the dancer’s movement, expression, gesture and implied narrative becomes part of an enigmatic or ambiguous scenario, often involving reflective surfaces, fabrics and assorted elements that we throw into the set. The point is never to have the viewer figure out what is going on in the photo, but just to present the mystery of that instant.
I found this video where Lois Greenfield talks about her journey and more.
Dance is the ostensible subject of my work, but the subtext is time. The dancers give form to the passage of time and the camera allows us to extract 1/2000 of a second from that continuum.(Greeenfield)
Key points and learnings from Greenfield’s works-
- Inspires to capture what cannot be seen by the naked eye
- Create something unique – something that only you can
- Simple Lighting
- Single frame
- Fixed camera settings – ISO 50, 1/250th shutter speed (sync speed) and, an aperture between f/5.6-f/8.
- Manual focus – predetermined focus lock
- Capture the moment just before or after the peak
- No photoshop – no tricks – no manipulations
- Images that confound and confuse the viewer
- Interested in images only recordable in the camera, not perceived by the human eye
- Evocative imagery
- Very particular about composition – shapes and the relationship between the dancer’s forms, and details of their gestures
- Anticipate the movement before and press the shutter – if you see the movement you will miss the shot.
- Making reality magical vs. manipulating an image to make it magical.
- It is ok not to “know” what you are doing before – inspiration can come anytime
- Creative process over creative product – not knowing the outcome beforehand
- The process of discovery while shooting leads to photographs that can be exceptional and surprising. vs knowing what the image will look like before taking it would end up with far less interesting images.
- Anticipate the movement and press the shutter before the movement takes place.
- Look for the subtle emotional nuances in the split micro-moments in one movement.
- Her subject is dance but the subtext is time.
Fig 1 Greenfield, L. (2020) PAUL ZIVKOVICH. [Photograph] At: https://www.loisgreenfield.com/movingstill/exhibit/csqd6fl6uiy1qijxkg89oxacutabdw (Accessed 19/07/2020).
Fig 2 Greenfield, L. (2020) DREYA WEBER AND ROBERT WEBER. [Photograph] At: https://www.loisgreenfield.com/antigravity/1472-dreya-weber-robert-weber-0211 (Accessed 19/07/2020).
Fig 3 Greenfield, L. (2020) Momex. [Photograph] At: https://www.loisgreenfield.com/geometry/1300-momix-0409 (Accessed 19/07/2020).
Fig 4 Greenfield, L. (2020) SARA JOEL AND ANNA VENIZELOS. [Photograph] At: https://www.loisgreenfield.com/movingstill/exhibit/2017/8/29/2017/8/29/sara-joel-and-anna-venizelos (Accessed 19/07/2020).
Fig 5 Greenfield, L. (2015) [Photograph] At: https://petapixel.com/2015/10/08/photographer-lois-greenfield-and-her-old-fashioned-approach-to-moving-stills/#:~:text=%E2%80%9CI%20shoot%20in%20a%20very,out%20of%20a%20movement%20phrase (Accessed 17/07/2020).
Fig 6 Greenfield, L. (2015) JVC Jazz Festival [Photograph] At: https://petapixel.com/2015/10/08/photographer-lois-greenfield-and-her-old-fashioned-approach-to-moving-stills/#:~:text=%E2%80%9CI%20shoot%20in%20a%20very,out%20of%20a%20movement%20phrase (Accessed 17/07/2020).
Fig 7 Greenfield, L. (2015) [Photograph] At: https://petapixel.com/2015/10/08/photographer-lois-greenfield-and-her-old-fashioned-approach-to-moving-stills/#:~:text=%E2%80%9CI%20shoot%20in%20a%20very,out%20of%20a%20movement%20phrase (Accessed 17/07/2020).
Fig 8 Greenfield, L. (2009) Wu-Kang Chen /Ballet Tech “Dust”, Choreography Eliot Feld, 2009 [Photograph] At: https://petapixel.com/2015/10/08/photographer-lois-greenfield-and-her-old-fashioned-approach-to-moving-stills/#:~:text=%E2%80%9CI%20shoot%20in%20a%20very,out%20of%20a%20movement%20phrase (Accessed 17/07/2020).
Fig 9 Greenfield, L. (2020) Eric Taylor Dance Company [Photograph] At: https://www.shutterbug.com/content/freezing-action-how-lois-greenfield%E2%80%99s-simple-lighting-helps-capture-gorgeous-dance-photos (Accessed 19/07/2020).
Fig 10 Greenfield, L. (2020) Paul Zivkovich [Photograph]. At: https://www.shutterbug.com/content/freezing-action-how-lois-greenfield%E2%80%99s-simple-lighting-helps-capture-gorgeous-dance-photos (Accessed 19/07/2020).
Fig 11 Greenfield, L. (2020) Dreya Weber [Photograph]. At: https://www.shutterbug.com/content/freezing-action-how-lois-greenfield%E2%80%99s-simple-lighting-helps-capture-gorgeous-dance-photos (Accessed 19/07/2020).
Fig 12 Greenfield, L. (2020) Elysia Dawn [Photograph]. At: https://www.shutterbug.com/content/freezing-action-how-lois-greenfield%E2%80%99s-simple-lighting-helps-capture-gorgeous-dance-photos (Accessed 19/07/2020).
Fig 13 Greenfield, L. (2020) Pilobolus Dance Theater [Photograph]. At: https://www.shutterbug.com/content/freezing-action-how-lois-greenfield%E2%80%99s-simple-lighting-helps-capture-gorgeous-dance-photos (Accessed 19/07/2020).
Lamb, B. 2020. Subtleties Of Expression | [ebook] At: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/551498aae4b09983625bc12e/t/5609b302e4b0bd772d2c079c/1443476226752/Subtleties+of+Expression.pdf (Accessed 19/07/2020).
Greenfield, L. (2016) Lois Greenfield: Moving Still. At: https://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/photography/tips-and-solutions/video-lois-greenfield-moving-still (Accessed 19/07/2020).
Lois Greenfield. (2020) Lois Greenfield Photography | New York Dance, Commercial, Fine Art Photographer | Fine Art Prints | Photo Exhibits | Photo Workshops | NYC. At: https://www.loisgreenfield.com/ (Accessed 19/07/2020).
B&H Photo Video. (2016) Dance Photography | Lois Greenfield. At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jaJXxYhA0Uo (Accessed 19/07/2020).
Eodice, L. (20110 Suspended In Time: The Dance Imagery Of Lois Greenfield | Photoworkshop.com. At: http://www.photoworkshop.com/artman/publish/lois_greenfield.shtml (Accessed 19/07/2020).
NADEAU, J. (2019) Photographer Lois Greenfield – Capturing Bodies In Motion | Mixte Magazine. At: https://www.mixtemagazine.ca/en/arts-lifestyle/photographer-lois-greenfield-capturing-bodies-in-motion/ (Accessed 17/07/2020).
Neubart, J. (2017) Freezing The Action: How Lois Greenfield’S Simple Lighting Helps Capture Gorgeous Dance Photos | Shutterbug. At: https://www.shutterbug.com/content/freezing-action-how-lois-greenfield%E2%80%99s-simple-lighting-helps-capture-gorgeous-dance-photos (Accessed 19/07/2020).
Sheard, K. (2020) Moving Stills: Interview With Lois Greenfield On Her Images Of Movement In Dance – Amateur Photographer. At: https://www.amateurphotographer.co.uk/technique/interviews/moving-stills-interview-with-lois-greenfield-on-her-images-of-movement-in-dance-67786 (Accessed 19/07/2020).
Zhang, M. (2015) Photographer Lois Greenfield And Her Old-Fashioned Approach To ‘Moving Stills’ | PetaPixel. At: https://petapixel.com/2015/10/08/photographer-lois-greenfield-and-her-old-fashioned-approach-to-moving-stills/#:~:text=%E2%80%9CI%20shoot%20in%20a%20very,out%20of%20a%20movement%20phrase (Accessed 17/07/2020).