The Trials And Tribulations Of An Aspiring Dance And Performing Arts Photographer.
I first met Helen whilst delivering a talk to a group of students at Blackburn University. Following which, I had connection requests from most of the class members via social media. And as you do, you have a poke around their various images and online galleries. There was a lot of street photography from most of the class, with various bits of “Arty” type stuff, in black and white with dark contrast. Plus the occasional retinal burning HDR, but let’s not go there.
Pretty much as I expected. These were images inspired by university course needs, as opposed to an individual’s passion or interest in a specific genre. A few of the group had a few more images of one type or other, showing a possible interest, and most of those were still images of local Blackburn streets, as an observed social comment. Then I was struck by one of the group who seemed to have the exact opposite. A few images that kinda fitted in with what everyone else had been doing, over the same timescale. But what struck me was the regular appearance of dancers. In the studio, outdoors and in what appeared to be a competition environment. The newer stuff had a lot going for it, with quite a clear indication as to what this particular photographer was trying to achieve. There were some images shot in the university studio, with an added relevant quote. A nice idea, with some obvious effort put in to achieve it. The lighting was quite flat, with loss of texture and detail. There was some blurring of extremities due to movement, and the colour rendition was a little off, but the image showed they had a passion for what they were doing, and they were pushing themselves to get where they wanted to be. As a student portfolio, it showed an awful lot of promise. And this student was in fact, Helen Rose.
I met with the same group of students a few months later, whilst running a workshop on product photography in the Blackburn University studio. A nice bunch, but rather quiet.
And a few months after that, I saw a facebook post from Helen, asking if anyone knew of a local studio she could hire, as the university studio was over subscribed. Deadlines looming, and all that! And that was how we started working together.
Helen’s first visit was to get some course work completed. She quietly got on with the required work, staging her products and adjusting her lights. She occasionally asked for advice or feedback on her image, but other than that, she seemed very quiet.
After her shoot, we spoke of her composition and how she might improve her lighting, although the conversation quickly came around to dance photography. The contrast in her demeanour when talking about dance photography, rather than uni work, was quite stark.
This was a subject she was totally immersed in. It wasn’t a fleeting interest, and at that point, she hadn’t really fleshed out her goals as a career photographer. It was something she loved photographing, not necessarily for herself, as whenever she talked about dance photography, it was always about what the dancers were capable of. How they pushed her abilities, driving her to improve her skill and craft. And how she strived to help bring out the best in her dancers.
After each session in the studio, she would ask me to go through her images. Questions, always questions. “How do I change that?”, “Why does that happen?”, What should I do differently?”
Helen was rarely satisfied with her images. The best from a session was always her starting point for improvement for the next session. She soon started concentrating on the lighting, and how it affected the mood of the image. How she could influence the texture and emphasis of a dancer’s shape, making it subtle or dramatic. She started paying more attention to my own portfolio, asking how she could transfer a particular lighting style to her dance work. She was absolutely relentless!
From there, she took her studio work to the dance schools and competitions. Creating the same quality images on location with a portable studio. She strove to create images that were indistinguishable from the quality images she had been creating in the studio environment, dispelling the myth that mobile studio dance images had to be somewhat flat and boring.
After that, it was “Can we take it outside?”
So, I end up ankle deep in water, or mud, or something I’d rather not look too closely at.
We’ve worked closely together for three and a half years. And no matter who’s client it is, or where it is, we work together
Looking back, I still find it surprising how this rather quiet and shy young woman has driven herself to become a leading example of her craft, particularly given the fact she was originally told, she wouldn’t have a career as a dance photographer. Well, not only has she proven otherwise, but she’s become a source of inspiration to others, and frequently copied, although without the care and attention to detail that’s found in Helen’s work.
She’s certainly come a long way, and is still pushing to go further. Questions, always bloody questions!
Does she still need me? Of course! I get to carry her bags and prep her camera as she sets her lights.
It’s been a hell of a ride, and we ain’t done yet.
Helen can be found at helenrosephotography.co.uk