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Still Moving: The Revelation or Representation of Dance in Still Photography

  • Matthew Reason

Arnold Genthe's 1915 photograph of Anna Pavlova, taken as she leaps into the air, is perhaps the earliest photograph of free movement in dance (Fig. 1). Unlike many other early images, with long exposure times necessitating static poses or wires to hold up the dancers, this photograph depicts actual movement. This claim to authenticity and actuality is a powerful part of its appeal; looking at the image, viewers are sure that they are witnesses to a faithful reproduction of Pavlova dancing, that they are seeing the dance of the past. Considered in this manner, the photograph is an example of the revelatory power of the camera to show us what has been.

However, Genthe's photograph is not a powerful image simply because it is, authentically, of a dancer in motion. It might have mechanically frozen its subject in time, but the photograph communicates movement beyond the moment it depicts—beyond, in a sense, what it reveals photographically to what it evokes in the mind of the viewer. Viewers are able to see movement in details indicative of motion: the flowing fabric of the costume, Pavlova's bodily posture with raised and powerfully muscled thigh, the elevated arm gestures, and the sharply bent and thrusting toes. Additionally, the degree of blur in the photograph provides an indistinctness that is suggestive of something in motion; oddly, the partial obscurity of the picture prompts viewers to imagine more than they can see. All of these elements are evocative indications of movement; they are neither documentary nor part of what can be called photographic revelation, but are instead representational.

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Dance Research Journal
  • ISSN: 0149-7677
  • EISSN: 1940-509X
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