Dance, Movement, and Light: An Interview with Photographer Ed Flores

Ed Flores calls himself a "movement photographer." His unique style captures both the artistry and the physical exertion of dance. We spoke with him about his inspiration and technique.

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How much direction do you like to give the dancers? Do you prefer to see what they naturally come up with?

Though many people think of me as a dance photographer, I consider myself more of a "movement photographer." With that, I ask the dancers that work with me to trust me and the process as we work together. Throughout the session, I direct them through the movements as I see them happen. I don't just shoot a burst of photos and select the best one. Each shot may consist of several frames, one taken after the other.

What are your favorite cameras and lenses?

I've always used Nikon cameras and lenses. The cameras I use are Nikon D700s. I love the way the camera feels In my hands. That might not make sense as to many people a camera is just a camera. There's something about Nikons that just fit for me. My favorite lens is the Nikon 35~70mm, F2.8. It's an older lens, which I don't think is manufactured any longer. I love this lens.

There is one thing that many of my friends think and it's that I must be shooting in full auto mode and auto focus. Quite the contrary. I shoot everything in manual mode and to this day, I've never used any of the other camera modes or functions.

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Who decides on the clothing and hairstyles that the dancers wear?

When it comes to clothing, hair and makeup, I make it simple. The dancers bring a wide selection of their clothing and dancewear. When they arrive, we lay it all out and I look at the pieces. I then select those that just hit me. Most dancers find that we use quite a bit of the clothing they've brought. My sessions aren't just about a few articles of clothing. It's about creating a wide variety of images.

As for hair and makeup, I just want it to be simple. The viewer isn't going to be noticing the dancers' hair and makeup and I don't want to spend too much time primping between shots. In the end, it's about the dancer and the movement.

What about the human form have you learned since you started photographing dancers?

As I work with dancers, I am fascinated at how the body moves and what it can do. The lines, form and shape that it creates is simply endless. I've also learned how far the body can be pushed and still create something so beautiful, soft and romantic.

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Have you ever wanted to be a dancer yourself?

Before I started working with dancers, I had never given it any thought. But now I wish I would have been a dancer. I dance with my subjects in my imagination. As I see them move, I find myself inside of them and I understand what they feel, what they create as they move. I find that I know exactly what they will be doing, as if I'm seeing a few moments into the future.

What is one element that you try to capture in every photo?

The dancer's feelings or emotions. This is the one element I want to capture. I want the viewer to feel the dancer.

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Apart from dance, where do your inspirations come from? Any other photographers?

My inspiration comes from Caravaggio, the Renaissance painter who was instrumental in using "chiascuro" - the use of light and shadow in paintings. I love light and shadow.

As for inspiration from photographers, I'm influenced by the masters of yesteryear: Clarence Bull, Horst P. Horst, Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton. My biggest inspiration comes from old classic movies and their feelings, use of imagination, lighting and story-telling.

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To what extent does music play a part in your photo shoots?

I love music and it does play a huge part in my sessions. I have iPods with over 18,000 songs which covers every imaginable style of music, classical to hip-hop and everything in between. If you think of a song, I'm sure I have it.

What is the main effect you're trying to achieve in your photographs?

Not really an effect, but it's something I want to share with the world. The dancers are athletes. The dancers are passionate and deserve to be seen for what they are - masters of their bodies, emotions and art. I want others to see dance for what it really is. Too often, dancers are overlooked. Where else can you see such beauty, grace, passion and extreme athleticsm?

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What are the values of photographing performances as opposed to dance schools or individuals?

Each has its own value. For the individual, it's about capturing their unique personality and talents. Dancers are individuals and should be seen as such. For schools, it's about showcasing their school's talent.

How much do you plan photos in advance?

Actually, I don't plan anything in advance. It all happens once I pick up the camera.

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What is the most interesting style of dance to photograph?

This is hard one to answer as each is interesting in its own way and when I shoot, I approach it that way. Every dance has something to give, to say, to share.

Do you prefer capturing shadows in color or black and white?

I love shadows, so it really depends on the image. Most of my photographs, though shot in color, are monochromatic.

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What differences have you noticed in the motion of men versus women?

Both kinds of dancers are unique. Both are intense, passionate and move with grace. I can ask either to be soft or intense. In the end, the dancers create something so different that it's hard to explain.

How do you incorporate fashion into a photograph?

I have a different take on fashion. Fashion photos for me should create a feeling, an emotion and connection with the viewer. I don't believe fashion should be static, because I feel a designer doesn't create a design to be static. The designer creates a feeling, an emotion with their art. So why should a fashion photograph be static? I create and incorporate fashion through light, color, movement and emotion.

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What kind of emotions do you try to evoke from the photos?

What I try to do is capture the emotion that the dancer emotes. I rarely ask them to create a feeling and instead I feel them. I feel their body and their heart and that is what I try to capture with my lens. It's the dancer you feel in my images and I hope other dancers, as well as the world, feels it too.

Is there one image you've taken that is the most meaningful to you?

Yes, there is one photograph I created a year ago. It's of two dancers, a male and female. It's in black and white. What is special about this photograph for me is the connection between them. It speaks of the connection we have to one another if we allow ourselves to feel one anothers hearts.

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What is your favorite film that uses chiaroscuro?

I have so many favorites. There is one film that I absolutely love. It's the 1945 classic, Mildred Pierce with Joan Crawford. It's in black and white and the use of light and shadow in this movie is simply beautiful. I love classic movies because so often, they had to use light and shadow as a character in the film. It added so much to the story and often, created the emotions much more so than the dialogue.

How much of your work is done in post-production?

I try to keep my post-production to a minimum because it's really about the dancer and not about my post-production skills. As I work with each photograph, I simply let my imagination wander and let the image take me where it wants. I never have an idea of what the end product will look like. It happens in a matter of minutes actually. I think the longest I've spent on a single image in post production is twenty minutes, and that was an anomaly. Most times, it takes less than ten minutes to create a shot and most of that is just looking at it to see what it says to me.

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