“No moment ever comes back,” says Lois Greenfield, in an interview at the end of her beautiful new book of photographs, “Moving Still.” She could be speaking the thoughts of any of us as we Instagram our lives. Pore over her extraordinary photographs of dancers in flight, and wonder: How many moments of magic are we missing, even in this image-rich age? How many wonders unfurl all around us, too quick for the eye to register, and then disappear unnoticed?
Lucky for us, Greenfield gets right to the heart of the matter, right to the magic. As a dance photographer, she’s not concerned with choreography or characters. She’s looking for the expressive potential of the dancer’s body buzzing on freedom. In past book collections and marketing work, her typical photograph freezes a dancer in midair, in flight, or falling or scrambling through space, energized, with muscles firing.
Yet “Moving Still” is a departure. Here, she mostly offers images of ease and equanimity. There is no kamikaze drive. There’s a lot of swirling fabric floating around the dancers’ bodies like smoke or steam. We may glimpse only a shrouded image of a person, or a single leg slicing through. The materials are so delicate and diaphanous — are they custom-created from an angel’s loom? Not at all. At least one photo features a dancer captured in a billowing orange net lit like a flame. (The lighting throughout this book is theatrical perfection.) It turns out that this is an ordinary hammock that Greenfield bought on vacation.
But there is nothing ordinary about the bodies. Greenfield’s human subjects are members of some of the best-known companies — among them, Martha Graham, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane, Paul Taylor and Shen Wei dance companies. At least one, Ha-Chi Yu , has been working with Greenfield for 20 years.
Greenfield coaxes from them a seductive balance of wildness and calm. Their bodies float, swim, dive and spiral, but their facial expressions are composed and introspective. In the most intriguing, secretive pictures, it’s as if we’re watching the dancers dream. We’re seeing that moment when the dream whips them around and spins right out of them, and in our minds, perhaps, we catch a little of how that feels.
Life speeds past. In these views of bodies so unlike our own, but also like our own, Greenfield offers a chance to contemplate, as she writes, “the wonder hiding in a split second.”
Sarah L. Kaufman is the dance critic of The Washington Post.
By William A. Ewing
Photographs by Lois Greenfield
Chronicle. 224 pp. $60
Sarah L. Kaufman received the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. She is the author of THE ART OF GRACE: On Moving Well Through Life. She has been The Washington Post’s dance critic since 1996, and what moves her most is seeing grace happen where she least expects it. Learn more at http://sarahlkaufman.com/ and Facebook SarahLKaufmanWriter