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Matinee: Arthur Elgort Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

13 June 2020

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 257th in our series of Saturday matinees today: Arthur Elgort.

This 3:09 video from the publisher Steidl presents a brief portrait of Arthur Elgort in his own words with images from Elgort's newest collection in Ballet.

Steidl describes the 168-page book of 114 images:

While glimpsing ballet through Elgort's lens we are taken not to the front of the stage but behind the scenes, where the hard work is done. On this journey through the hallways and rehearsal spaces of some of the world's most distinguished ballet schools, including the New York City Ballet and the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet, we see previously unpublished images of legends such as Balanchine, Baryshnikov and Lopatkina. The perfection of the prima ballerina disappears in these quiet photographs where the viewer is able to witness the individual dancers' natural glamor as they work to perfect their craft. Elgort's snapshot style allows the pain and pleasure of one of the world's most beloved forms of expressive dance to be seen with beauty.

But it's Elgort himself who stars in this show.

He begins at the beginning, confessing he took photos of his friends with his brother's camera, which he "borrowed." His motivation? "I didn't think I was going to be a photographer. I just wanted a record."

When he went to college, he was told photography was the worst thing anyone could do. But he persisted, making his own darkroom, buying an enlarger and teaching himself the art. "I didn't go to school for it," he says.

His girlfriend was a dancer "good but not that good, but she was a nice girl and I went out with her." He'd go to class with her "and try out my camera."

He had a knack for capturing a dancer at just the right moment. His work was admired and an exhibition of his photographs of dancers was arranged.

That wasn't the start of his career, though. He realized the dancers were poorer than he was but he was losing money buying film and chemicals and paper to photograph them.

What's closest to dance, he wondered? Fashion, he answered. So he became a fashion photographer.

He would get through the fashion sessions quickly and then say to the model, "Jump!" That's how he got a little dance into his fashion shots and made a career for himself.

He says when he looks at those old images now they don't look old at all. They don't feel old.

No, they don't. From the very first black-and-white of ballerinas in the clip, they seem to leap now as they did then, moved by a music you can't hear but seem to see.


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