Capturing magical moments in dance takes a professional dancer and a seasoned photographer. I was lucky enough to meet an artist who is both: Skye Schmidt.
A snapshot of her history may explain. Skye started dancing lessons at age 4 and was performing on the Barclay Theater stage by the time she was 12. She received a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Dance from UCI in 2016, having been awarded the prestigious William J. Gillespie merit-based dance scholarship. She continues to perform at the Barclay about four times each year with the Festival Ballet Theatre.
In addition to dancing, Skye is also an accomplished freelance photographer who specializes in dance and theatrical photography. Did I mention that she was given her first camera at age 5? She currently works as a staff photographer at the Barclay Theater. It’s no surprise that Skye told me, “The Barclay is like a second home to me.” Skye has also worked as an official staff photographer for UCI’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts.
One rarely finds such a breadth of talent in a single individual.
Recently, I had the chance to sit down with Skye. During our conversation, she told me, “Because they know I’m a dancer, other dancers are ok with me encroaching on their space. I’m not really aware of this, but I’ve been told that I move with the dancers and readjust constantly while I’m photographing them. Since I’m a dancer, I know how they are going to move. I know what angles are going to reflect the dancer in the best way.”
With portraiture, you pose and smile. I asked Skye if photographing dancers is the same. Her response provided an insider’s view. Skye said, “Dancers are always aware of how we are performing. So, we are not going to be quite natural. Dancers kind of forget so I work with them, reminding them what muscles you use to get a smile. I try to get an energetic expression that’s totally relaxed. Some dancers can do these moves or poses with a totally relaxed face. It’s kind of like a superhero quality.”
My next question asked how she knew when to snap the shutter. Skye answered, “I personally like capturing movement. Dance is movement and feeling all in one. With classical dance, every pose is very clear. There is only one moment that is the peak dance moment. If the dancer performs a strait leg ‘Grande Jetē’, I use a shotgun grip on my camera. That makes it easy. I know when their legs are going to extend. I only take one frame which is 1/500th of a second. If you take more than one frame, you’ll likely miss the peak moment because it’s so quick.”
Dance — classical or modern — is a 3D art form, and yet so ephemeral. With the capability that Skye explains, she is able to transform dance into a vivid and gripping 2D form. Skye filled in more background, telling me, “It’s important to see dance live. It’s a lot more magical. I think of photography as fusion. It’s a way to capture that magic. You can transform whatever you are looking at in a camera and you have a lot of control over how it is shown.”
I asked if Skye’s photographs actually makes a connection between dancers and the rest of us in the world. Her response displayed real understanding. She said, “For me, dance and photography really inform each other. There’s nothing like being a dancer photographing a dancer. Someone who knows what you are doing. Someone who understands the point of the movement. I constantly strive to reflect that person in a way that combines how they feel and how they look. The photo should show more than how you look. It should show how you think you look. My photographs show the world what this person is really like.”
I also asked how her photographs make a connection with Skye. She wasn’t shy in her reply, saying “When still-photography of dance is done well, it captures the dynamic moment. And that helps the viewer visualize what happened right before and what happens right after that moment. To look at a still photo and be taken away for a second by whatever follows and whatever happened just before, those are my favorite things.”
What about informal shots? When I asked about choosing a casual pose, Skye shared another secret. She said, “For the picture that I want to capture, knowing it’s the right moment, that’s more like my gut feeling. I want to show someone in a positive way but I also want to find their private side. I don’t want to look at a photo and see someone that I wouldn’t want to walk up to and talk with. It’s about bringing them to life, not just a rendition of what they look like. You should get a feel of who they are.”
Looking into the future, I asked Skye, “What direction would you like to take with your photography?” Of course, Skye has a vision. She said, “I would like to continue taking dancers away from the stage and the studio, out into commercial or natural settings. It’s not like dance came-to-be in a studio or on a stage.”
As we shook hands at the close of the interview, without any prompting, Skye provided a glimpse of her self-motivation. She told me, “I feel so lucky to do both dance and photography. I can capture those dream moments. I feel like I’m on a cloud when I am doing that job.”
For those of us fortunate enough to see those captured “dream moments” through Skye’s photographs, we too feel so lucky.
To view Skye’s exquisite depth of photographic capabilities, click here.
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