Photographers Ken Browar and Deborah Ory are the creative team behind the NYC Dance project, a photography pursuit that documents the world’s elite dancers through captivating and compelling photographs. The renowned NYC Dance Project, which aims to record each dancer’s unique strength and beauty as well as to capture the passion and emotion of dance, was born out of a desire to profile these contemporary performers. When looking for photographs of today’s superlative dancers to gift to their ballerina daughter, Ken and Deborah realized that many of the greatest classical dancers, such as Baryshnikov, Nureyev, Fountaine, and Graham were well documented by great classical photographers. However, present-day photographers were not concentrating on picturing contemporary dancers. As both had a passion for dance (Deborah as a retired dancer), Browar and Ory merged their backgrounds in fashion and editorial photography and embarked on a project where they began documenting the dance community and invited soloists from many of the world’s most excellent dance companies into their Brooklyn based studio for photographic sessions.
The NYC Dance Project comes out of a tradition of dance photography established by George Hoyningen-Huene, Horst. P Horst, Irving Penn, and Barbara Morgan, among others. Traditionally, dance pictures were taken for publicity or commercial purposes, and the photographs were taken in a studio where it was easier to control lighting, placement, composition, and costumes than it would have been in live performances.
“In recent years, the remarkable dance photos of Ken Browar and Deborah Ory, have brought home, again and again, the idea that an instant can invoke the world – a microcosm in a moment.” – Jane Eilbert, Artistic Director, Martha Graham Dance Company
Ken Browar grew up in Los Angeles and moved to Paris at age 19 with a plan to remain for six months and learn the art of photography. His 6-month stay turned into 20 years. His love for photographing movement began by capturing dancers at the Paris Opera Ballet. His fashion photography has been featured in many European magazines, including Vogue, Elle, and Marie Claire. Deborah Ory is a retired professional dancer whose passion for ballet started as a young child. She began photographing the rehearsals she was supposed to be in using a camera her father had brought home, creating a connection between photography and dance early on. Her work includes editorial assignments for House & Garden, Mirabella, Self, Health, Martha Stewart Living, and Real Simple. Ken and Deborah together both form the collaborative partnership that is the NYC Dance Project.
“To reveal that moment in which dancers move beyond the physical labyrinth of ligaments and muscles to show who they are in their essence is somehow at the heart of Ken and Deborah’s explorations.” – Gia Kourlas, NYT
In the photograph, Charlote Landrau, Soloist, Martha Graham Dance Company, Ken and Deborah record the dancer gracefully leaping and capture her in mid-air. The dancer defies gravity and looks to be effortlessly floating with undeniable virtuosity and physical grace. The gestural expressions of the dancer are composed and refined, exuding her controlled lightness and concentration. The composition is centered on both the dancer and her flowing robes, which contribute to the image’s vital energy. Crimson flows of translucent fabric dominate the image, increasing its degree of depth both visually and conceptually. The clothes become a device that Browar and Ory often use to great effect to amplify the expressive impact of their images. The picture artfully unites the flowing garments and the movement of Charlotte Landrau’s body, creating a dynamic composition.
The photographic sessions of Browar and Ory unfold naturally as both photographer and dancer establish a relationship of trust and cooperation. They often have the dancers for multiple sessions, and there is a good deal of give and take in their collaborations. The aesthetic aim is to make moving and dynamic pictures of the dancers, but the clothing involved has a prominent part in the finished photographs. The dancers are often wearing ‘haute couture’ clothing and are not in their dance attire. The pictures are unique in their merging of fine art photography with dance and fashion. A photograph, by definition, stops time and captures an instant but the NYC Dance Project images reference more than a fraction of a second. They bring a rich mixture of clothes, texture, color, and movement into 21st-century contemporary dance.
“…the photos draw us in and somehow offer a more personal, intimate connection with each dancer. While we sense the years of training, challenges, and sacrifice these artists have faced in order to astound us, we are also stirred by the intangibles – the humor, intelligence, confidence, innocence, and even hopes, wishes, and dreams that come off the page. We feel we know them. We see the state of the soul’s weather.” – Janet Eilber, Artistic Director, Martha Graham Dance Company
The NYC Dance Project synthesizes a dedication to the art of photography with that of dance and movement; recording a temporal, fleeting expression as a flow through time. For Ken and Deborah, their challenge is to find the most significant “instant” to capture that indicates and suggests the dynamic nature of dance. The New York City Dance Project has produced an extraordinary range of beautiful photographs that respects tradition but adds modern elements, vitality, and passionate energy as it brings together the worlds of dance and fashion through movement.