Dance: A Celebration of Human Expression

Vytal Movement Dance Company member Lauren Hovick. Photograph by Ira Gardner © 2020.

Over my more than 30 years of experience as a professional photographer dance has emerged as one of the most significant subjects in my work.  To me the image of human bodies in rhythmic motion within a finite space is a portrayal of the deepest emotional essence of a human being.  

As a photographer, I am always attempting to capture and convey emotion by making photographs of movement.  If I am making a portrait I am paying attention to the minute details of gesture and expression.  If I am traveling to unfamiliar environments I am always seeking to understand the meaning of a place by the way in which people move and interact within the landscape. 

According to Albert Mehrabian’s famous 1971 study of non verbal communication only 7% of communication occurs through verbal language. The remaining 93% of communication is comprised of  55% body language and 34% coming from “the tone and music of their voice.”  

With my photography I operate from a belief that that all human movement, gesture, and facial expressions are the result of internal emotions.  By photographing human movements I am attempting to transmit these emotions to you and stimulate a sense of connection to our universal humanity.  In this work I aspire to create a pause for self reflection, wisdom, and compassion in an otherwise chaotic and fractured world.  

Vytal Movement Dance Company member Christopher Lamb. Photo by Ira Gardner ©2020

Dance differs from ordinary motor skills necessary for moving in space by the way in which it recreates specific movements with  aesthetic and symbolic qualities.  It is an aesthetic image that combines body language and sound to express symbolic meaning in a way that communicates far more than words alone. As I write this I am reminded of how my parents taught me that, “It is your actions that matter more than your words.” 

From my wife, who is a PhD anthropologist, I have learned that visual art, music, and dance preceded written language in human development.  Dance has been used for telling stories and unifying people into a cohesive cultural identity.  

Dance is important for the functions it serves socially and spiritually.  Dance is used as a way to build social connections and to express spiritual belief systems.  Some of the  earliest evidence of dance is observed in 9000 years old cave paintings in India. Contemporary dance is perhaps the ultimate expression of raw human emotion and spirit.  

Breaking free from traditional dance forms like ballet, contemporary dance draws upon all dance traditions and combines it with unconventional and revolutionary steps and shapes that push the absolute limits of the human body.  One of the things I like most about contemporary dance is that it is an artform that extends an open invitation to all of us regardless of skill or body type.  There is no stereotypical prerequisite dancer physique required, because such a standard would set limitations from which contemporary dance attempts to liberate itself from.  Contemporary dance celebrates freedom of expression and invites all to join in.

In March of 2016 I had the opportunity to complete a video project about modern dance for a film festival in Spokane.  Through this project I was introduced to the Vytal Movement Dance Company and its artistic director Vincas Greene. This interaction left me excited for Spokane to have a local choreographer who had studied with the legendary dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham. I was also impressed by the dedication and spirit displayed by the entire company of dancers.

I spent more than a month filming weekly rehearsals as the dance company prepared for their first full length concert at the Bing Theater.  Watching them rehearse Vincas’s original work  Awakenings spoke to me spiritually. After the initial film project ended I continued to show up at the dance studio with my camera.  

Each week my camera bore witness to a physical and emotional evolution that paralleled the energy and excitement growing in our city’s arts community.  It became clear to me that this group of dancers were committed to bringing professional dance back to Spokane after an almost 30 year absence. 

After that first concert in May of 2017 I continued to work with Vytal Movement to produce photographs and videos for both their concert promotions and fundraising efforts.  During this time we made photographs in and around downtown Spokane that celebrated the city, it’s river, and the unity between humans and nature. Everything about the work I am doing with Vytal Movements is about celebrating dance in Spokane.

In October of 2018 I invited the dance company to my downtown art studio at the Richmond Art Collective.  What began as an informal and casual photo session soon evolved into an intense 7 hour marathon of artistic exploration.  The dancers and I worked to exhaustion.  

My small studio was transformed into an infinite space for exploration.  One by one and two by two I worked with the dancers.  These images reflect a profound collaboration and shared spirit between photographer, dancer, and choreographer.  

This one session created more than a year’s worth of work for me to edit and curate.  These images are the ones that I feel come closest to expressing the energy and emotion that we shared in the studio that day. While these images were originally captured in color, it was ultimately my decision to share them with you in a monochromatic translation that I feel creates a philosophical space for seeing the universal human experience illustrated by each of these talented dancers. I am eternally grateful to have the opportunity to collaborate with these fine dancers whom I am proud to now call friends.  

With gratitude,

Photography by Ira Gardner Signature Logo
Ira Gardner has been a professional photographer for over 30 years and teaches photography, multimedia, and documentary video production at Spokane Falls Community College.

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