Taiwanese Dancers Join Famed Photographer to Discuss New Collaboration

By Lynn Chawengwongsa

On August 7, 2015, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in New York hosted “Dancing for the Camera: Artist Talk,” a panel discussion featuring renowned photographer Lois Greenfield and Taiwanese dancers PeiJu Chien-Pott, I-Ling Liu and Jye-Hwei Lin. In a conversation moderated by Paul Galando, the four artists described their extraordinary and grueling experiences collaborating on Greenfield’s upcoming photography book, “Moving Still,” for which Greenfield photographed the three dancers individually.

The discussion opened with an explanation of Greenfield’s minimalistic approach to developing the photographs that make up her forthcoming book. Greenfield readily revealed that she relied only on her tripod camera in addition to a backdrop and lighting equipment for all the photographs in “Moving Still.” The photographer also credited a small team of assistants for fashioning everyday objects into makeshift props. Items such as feathers, shredded paper, string, tin foil balls and mylar streamers were showered onto the dancers during the photo shoots.

Liu, whose photos show her dancing under a falling cluster of rubber bands, was fascinated by the effect of the props. “It looks so different. It looks like pasta on camera. But it was rubber bands,” she marveled.

Lacking a strict choreography to follow, Liu, Chien-Pott and Lin were given the artistic freedom to improvise throughout most of their photo shoots. Props and poses were often impromptu ideas from both the photographer and the Taiwanese dancers. The trial and error photo shoots became what Greenfield called “a blind date with these three wonderful dancers.”

“They don’t know what I want. I don’t know what they want. But we keep looking at the pictures throughout the day and they somehow seem to coalesce,” Greenfield said candidly.

While they agreed on the brilliance of Greenfield’s work, the Taiwanese dancers acknowledged the physical and mental exhaustion they felt dancing for hours in front of a camera. Working with a photographer who opted not to digitally alter her photographs for publication meant that Lin, Liu and Chien-Pott had to repeat the same movements until Greenfield shot the perfect photograph, which, more often than not, occurred after the dancers’ 30th repetition.

“It’s almost like going into a deep meditation − doing it over and over and over again. It becomes deep mentally and emotionally,” said Lin. Indeed, for dancers whose muscles tense after hours of dancing but are still required to remain relaxed, feeling an emotional connection to their movements and the camera was essential to creating striking images. Chien-Pott recalled, “She was asking me if I wanted music and I said, ‘Yes,’ because I wanted to be in that emotional environment. So I asked her to put on Beyoncé.”

Projecting the contact sheets for each dancer onto a large screen, Greenfield pointed out the subtle differences between each photograph and its successor. As she mulled over her longtime quest to photograph time through the motion of tangible objects in space, she thought for a moment before saying, “It makes you realize that this split second doesn’t come back – you can’t recreate it.”

Galando and others who have followed Greenfield’s work over the last 25 years are quite aware of the transcendental aesthetic of her work, of her ability to capture fleeting moments. Having worked with Greenfield himself, Galando quipped, “You’re the woman that stopped time.”

“Dancing for the Camera: Artist Talk” was presented by the Taipei Cultural Center in New York and supported by Dance Films Association. The panel discussion featured six short experimental dance films directed by Taiwanese artists Kuo-Heng Huang, Ji-Hong Lee, Jye-Hwei Lin, Wen-Chung Lin, Hsiao-Ying Peng and Yun-Ting Tsai; and sponsored by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of China.

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