Today on 10 Questions With… I would like to welcome another new contributor to the blog–Christopher Duggan. Christopher is a dance photographer (and more, as you will see below) and he will be sharing some of his work with us the last day of every month here on 4dancers. The series will be titled simply, “Finis”. Join us this month on the 31st for the first installment, and in the meantime, get to know Christopher a little better…
1. Can you tell readers a bit about your background and how you got started in photography?
I got started in photography when I was 25 and working in a finance job. My friend from college was a photography enthusiast, took me to buy my very first camera and got me signed up for Intro to Photography at the School of Visual Arts in NYC. I loved it. I was learning the basics, developing film and making black and white prints. It was the first time I expressed myself as a visual artist.
2. How did you wind up doing dance photography?
I came into photographing dancers through my wife, Nel Shelby. She was a dancer, and since 2001, she’s been serving the dance community by way of creating dance film and documenting dance performance. I think it was in 2004 when I accompanied Nel on a performance shoot and asked if the choreographer would mind if I could sit on the side and shoot some pictures. Of course they said yes. I shot a whole bunch of images and caught one moment that I absolutely loved. Then I was hooked.
I graduated from SUNY Geneso with a BA in Theater, and because I loved being on stage and the adrenaline rush of putting up a show, it only seemed natural to do photography in that space. I really admire dancers. I love their bodies. The art they produce is unlike any other.
3. What are you currently doing in dance photography?
I am the Festival Photographer at Jacob’s Pillow and have been working in this capacity since 2006. My wife, Nel, is the Videographer there and she has a lot of dance clients in New York City, too. She and I work together often documenting performance, creating edited marketing videos, and working with choregraphers and dance companies to create what they need to market themselves with photography and films.
4. Do you have a “philosophy” regarding your dance photography that you can share?
I love the rush of shooting a dress rehearsal. Because I mostly shoot work that I have never seen before, there’s always an element of surprise – of not knowing what’s about to happen. I like my performance images to catch a moment that maybe no one else could catch, but most importantly, I want my photos to really showcase the choreographer’s vision. So for me, it’s a combination of being really present to what’s happening and to capture an image that speaks of some signature move by the choreographer. I want people to see the choreographer, not the photographer, when they see the image.
5. How is doing dance photography different than other types of photography?
I specialize in both dance and wedding photography. You would think that they would be quite different, but I’m seeing the similarities all the time. For one, the dance exists only in the present moment; a wedding, too. The camera captures a glimpse of it and hopefully can help to tell the story or to excite your memory. But each of them live only in the creation of it. What I love too, is that both a dance and a wedding begin and then go until they are finished with no repeats. Rarely can say to a choreographer at a dress rehearsal “Can I see that again?”. No way. So either I’ve got it or I don’t. A wedding is the same. Never to be repeated. That is exciting.
6. What is the most challenging aspect of taking pictures of dancers?
It moves fast. And often times the lighting is dark. Sometimes very dark. Put the two together and it can be a challenge unlike any other kind of image I make. That’s part of why I love it.
7. What is the most rewarding aspect of doing dance photography?
To put it simply, creating something beautiful.
8. Are there any styles of dance that you prefer photographing over others? Why or why not?
When I see a dancer is moving with passion, that is always the best. It could be modern, tap, ballet, anything. It’s that something extra that an artist pours out that I prefer over anything.
9. Can you tell when you are taking the pictures if you got the shot you wanted—or do you have to wait and see it on the computer screen?
Yes and no. Sometimes I see something unfolding through the lens and I get so excited and know that I’ve captured something great. Sometimes I get back to the computer and realize that I missed it by a hair. Then there are times when I’m not sure I’ve got anything at all. Then the images start to reveal themselves on the computer almost like a print in the in the darkroom tray. That’s cool.
10. What’s next for you?
I’d love to be hired to cover a dance festival in Europe or South America. I love travel and it’s so exciting meeting new people and working with amazing new artists. And I should probably learn how to use Final Cut Pro so I can shoot video more. Seems like the visual world is quickly moving in that direction.
BIO: Christopher Duggan is the founder and principal photographer of Christopher Duggan Photography, a New York City-based wedding and dance photography studio. Duggan has been the Festival Photographer for Jacob’s Pillow Dance since 2006. In this capacity, and as a respected New York dance photographer, he has worked with renowned choreographers and performers of international acclaim as well as upstarts in the city’s diverse performance scene. Duggan often teams up with his talented wife and Pillow videographer Nel Shelby. A husband and wife dance documentation team, they are equipped to document performances, create and edit marketing videos and choreography reels, and much more. Visit Christopher online at www.christopherduggan.com.