Nick White: Still Moving

An exhibition of dance related works at The Maddermarket Theatre, St. John's Alley, Norwich.  NR2 1DR

4-28 October 2016

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1. The Monster of Human Kindness.

In the early nineties I was given a very loose brief by Harpers and Queen to photograph talented, youthful people involved with the arts. It opened doors as few publicists were going to turn down the chance of such well placed exposure. Among others, I photographed Steven Isserlis just before he premiered Taverner’s The Protecting Veil and Melvyn Tan who had recently released a pianoforte recording of Mozart’s piano sonatas.

Steven Isserlis Melvyn Tan Laurie Booth. An optical illusion: the circle is actually egg-shaped and the apparent rectangle is an isosceles trapezoid.

Contemporary dance was a totally unknown entity to me when I was introduced to Laurie Booth. He was involved in a production at The Riverside Studios with Russell Maliphant at the time. Without any great understanding of their concerns I came up with a couple of ideas of my own: this quite monstrous figure ia a rough test for the second and, as yet uncompleted idea. I was (and still am) fascinated by one of Picasso’s bullfight paintings with its implied physical brutality as man, horse and bull all collide, seemingly attempting to occupy the same space and all three, within the same picture, disperse in their theatrical, balletic poses.

Picasso: Bullfight: Death of the Toreador, 1933

The tactile there-ness of the painting felt incredibly appropriate to how I imagined a dancer might feel - acting and reacting with other performers in an observed space. My desire was to recreate this image using parts of the dancers' bodies in a collage depicting an explosion of touch. Unfortunately time was against me and the piece remained unfinished. My primary idea worked well enough in a pre-photoshop world. I had played around with perceptions of depth by creating an optical illusion to imply a flat space (see above) being contradicted by the perspective on the figure (unfortunately Russell Maliphant was a no-show and the small wooden mannequins had to stand in - it would have worked so much better with two full-size figures).

The monster of human kindness

A colour polaroid transfer - the sister of the polaroid on display here, found its way into a collage from a series entitled Bear's Progress. It featured a cast of demonic and nebulous creatures of which the monster of human kindness was but one. However, plans are underway to complete the original piece…

2. active/passive

Titles are sometimes a bit of a necessary evil. They give the viewer something to hook onto...guidance as to intention. This photograph was made during a session with Stine NIlsen and Kuldip Singh-Barmi, My primary aim had been to make some commercial images for sale through Getty Images. It is easy to get sidetracked though. I was drawn by the slightly monolithic quality of these two bodies and the feeling of weight: one is carrying the other is being carried, yet the question of which is active and which is passive hovers over them.

3&4. Gestural space: experiment IV #159a - with Sarah Lewis

A very recent piece developing an idea I have wanted to pursue for some time. In the way that Paul Klee described drawing as taking a line for a walk so our movement through space leaves traces invisible to us. I asked Sarah to describe some arcs with a small LED light. These were captured with a long exposure and I used a flash to record Sarah at a particular instant. It isn’t a new idea - there are some images of Picasso painting with light - however with those he is literally making a drawing...using his customary motifs. Here, I was more interested in the idea of gesture...the sweep of an arm and the record of a journey that I could then render into a more conventional two dimensional display using a mix of Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.

5, 6 and 7

Why are they called Bank? Simply because they are reworkings of images and montages I made while documenting Siobhan Davies’ Jerwood Bank Project. This annual project was set up to give six mid-career dance artists the opportunity to work within the company on a recent dance work under the guidance of the original dancers with the aim of sharing the core philosophy of Siobhan Davies Dance in regard to the challenges of being a creative artist and extending their understanding of their dance practice. My particular interest in contemporary dance came about through my involvement with this company and I feel very privileged to have been able to witness the process leading to the realisation of the final piece. As I was primarily there to record the event, I must admit that my understanding of the process is somewhat superficial (as superficial as a photograph?), however through my involvement I was able to bring away a sense of the dancer’s use of space...of the way in which the bodies interact with the environment and with each other like kinetic sculpture. (A particularly immersive experience as I was able to enter the space, something that is generally denied to a static audience).

These images are renditions of montages taken from the original sequences where I have created imaginary spaces suggesting a narrative that is not necessarily the same as the one being played out by the dancers. A lot of other playful factors are at work here too. It is interesting how that stuff you look at when you’re sixteen or seventeen has the deepest roots. Aubrey Beardsley...The Yellow Book...hmm, that’s where the image on the left has its naissance. Picasso, comic books and Klee all surface in the second one and the use of celestial space in the third. These tall vertical works allow the bodies to create a narrative that reads from top to bottom. The perspective in the third panel where a small Stine regards a giant Jason is reminiscent of how Paula Rego plays with these false juxtapositions (as did the great illustrator, Maurice Sendak). But they are not derived from these sources, they just share the same roots: fairytales where children inhabit world’s peopled by giants and mediaeval landscapes such as those of Hieronymus Bosch where the confusion of an irrational world is played out in landscapes where the far away can be as significant as the action that happens close by.

These three are all from the 2004 Bank project where the participating dancers were Ben Ash, Stine Nilsen, Marina Collard, Jason Keenan-Smith, Natalie Ayton and Pedro Machado with guidance coming from Sarah Warsop, Deborah Saxon, Pari Naderi and Siobhan Davies. These workshops were held at The Royal Academy of Dance in Battersea. From a photographer’s point of view it was a horrible space: the lighting was a mix of the worst sort of fluorescent with a lot of daylight - impossible to balance, but for the dancers it really felt like it worked well. I have no idea why...perhaps it was because they felt like interlopers in the Establishment. I’m probably wrong...most likely they were just a great bunch of people who knew how to work together

8. The Origin Of The Species = mc²

...or a comment on the way our analogue world is processed by the on/off digital revolution. The original image is quite blurred - a thirtieth of a second rather than a ten-thousandth - enough time to count as a slice rather than an instant. I liked the idea of giving added emphasis to the way digital photography turns temporal flow into nuggets of information - yes, it looks like a paint chart. The image is overlaid with a weaving of texts from The Origin of the Species and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity to invoke notions of change over time and the concept that time and space are not as separate as we like to imagine.

The dancers in this image are Zoi Dimitrou, Maho Ihara and Niklas Laustiola - all participants in Bank 2005.

9. Spanish Dancer (on yellow)

This can come under a heading called ‘play’. I employed Beatriz Pascual for this shoot. It was an out and out attempt to produce some commercial images for one of the stock libraries. I didn’t realise it at the time, but looking at it now I see that all those Gitanes cigarettes smoked as a pretentious teenager had done more than just leave me with bad lungs. The yellow is a recent addition and is probably more of a homage to Juan Miro than to nicotine.

10. Dingwalls - Jerry Barry and Eyvon Waite

This was 1991, not 1989 as I wrongly put on the label and was shot for the French magazine, Actuel, as part of a low-down on London’s bubbling jazz scene. The hip place back then for the Straight No Chaser serious dancers was Dingwalls on a Sunday afternoon with Giles Peterson. I had worked quite a bit with Jerry when he was part of IDJ, a bunch of cool jazz dancers I had first encountered at the Camden Jazz festival in 1984. I knew less about Eyvon, I met her again later when she guested as the vocalist for the band Working Week. They were true professionals. We worked this one and they nailed it in one short roll of 120 film. That was ten shots on a Mamiya 6x7. So different to today’s machine-gun approach.

11.  Ballet shoe and pins with Beatriz Pascual

Another from a section we can call ‘play’. I don’t think it needs any explaining. A concept shot for the photo-libraries.

12. Untitled (with Tanya Ball)

Line and shape - thinking of Picasso and African sculpture. Probably guilty of exoticism - certainly not a portrait. Tanya was not a dancer, she was someone who wanted to be photographed. It was interesting to work with someone who was willing to listen to my direction and maintain a pretty uncomfortable position. Thank you, Tanya.

13. surface tension (with Lerato Lipere)

Again, I should really have left this untitled. It feels wrong to impose a reading on it. Like Mongolian throat singing, there are overtones thrown up that were unexpected. It started as an experiment. I was interested in the interplay of the light illuminating the figure and also casting shadows on the semi translucent film. It involved a wind machine, a co-operative dancer and an assistant to keep the thing from blowing away. It was one of those shoots where you set up the parameters and let the substance find itself. I ended up liking virtually all the images - and there were a lot of them. However, in essence they really all say the same thing. They play with the surface..with the fabric, if you will, of the photographic image. Back in Plato’s cave as Susan Sontag would have us believe… but the throat singing gives a little breathes life into clay.

14. time/space: experiment IV #33 (with Sarah Lewis)

This was shot at the Norwich Arts Centre a month or so ago. I have used a large number of LEDs to trace Sarah’s movement. It is a record of a gesture over time and as such gives the movement something not dissimilar to a signature. It is an ongoing project and I look forward to developing the ideas in a variety of ways

15-18: Conch, Salsify, Onions and Hellebore

conch onions
salsify heleborus niger

So...plants and a shell, eh! Why them? Well, partly because Sarah Young who invited me to show the work just really loved the salsify picture, but mainly because I don’t find them too dissimilar to some of the concerns in dance. With each of these we are still dealing with objects in space, with no visible means of support and it is easy anthropomorphise them: the wind blowing through the conch...the ethereal onions quietly descending like baby spiders on gossamer thread. Growth and movement are everywhere.

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