Dying Swans and Dragged Up Dames
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Dying Swans& Dragged Up Dames is an exhibition of photographs interrogating imagery and authenticity of dance photography as disclosed in expressions of agility, ability, age and gender. The photographs are parodies of original iconic vintage dance imagery: we have, to borrow Rebecca Schneider’s phrase, ‘dragged up’ the past (2011). These are camp parodies created with a sense of play in fond homage to the originals, but by replacing an athletic body in its skilled prime with a wobbly one beyond its prime, the inherent tragedy of dance imagery is foregrounded: that age-related corporeal decline will eventually overcome athleticism; that moments of technical, physical and aesthetic perfection do not last; that only photography can ultimately save performers from ageing.
The original photographs that we have reconstructed were themselves constructed: such were the limitations of photography at the time when Pavlova, Nijinksy were dancing that only held poses were possible: still images were not captured in the flow of an on-going performance but were – often still are – set up shots, the technical perfection depicted made possible by controllable conditions and the possibility of repetitions until dancer and photographer are satisfied. Dance imagery is often thus a beautiful lie capturing a micro-performance for a camera rather than a full performance for an audience. Our images do not depict the performance of a ballet but the sweaty repetitions of a move and the airbrushed presence of personae, gender and glamour: in our images, our protagonists are dragged up versions of original fakes.
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