Tag Archives: documentary photojournalism

Touring America with soaring dancers as your guides

Dance Across the USA, by Jonathan Givens. Eps Pub. 306 pages. Oversized trade paperback. $39.95.

In his beautiful and inspiring book, Mr. Givens celebrates the United States, especially its dedication to maintaining parks, preserves, forests and other natural areas owned collectively by citizens; the separate states plus DC individually; and the art, excitement, and pleasure of dance.

Mr. Givens raised money to make an ambitious tour with an ambitious mission. In his modified Nissan van named Buford, he crossed over 22,000 miles of America in 90 days. The trip took him to all 50 states plus Washington, DC. Developing his route and choosing his settings carefully, he took photographs in 56 locations. While most of these locations are relatively untrammeled by buildings, he couldn’t resist urban places like New York City’s Grand Central Terminal. National Parks play an important role in this hymn to nature, but so do smaller and less known recreational areas: Lakes and streams, ocean coasts, mountains, canyons – even swamps.

Sometimes a setting includes a distinctive structure that grabs the photographer’s attention.

There are no crowd scenes in this collection, which is just as much focused on the figure in the landscape as it is on the landscape. The figure is a dancing person frozen in time. Most of these figures are girls and young women. Perhaps the average age is 14 or 15, though some are much younger and a few considerably older. There are very few male dancers. The statistical outcomes have to do with who showed up for the advertised opportunities to participate. The author-photographer aimed at inclusiveness, but he didn’t force it. 

Each dancer seems embraced by the selected setting. One can sense reverberations between the monumental, imposing stages and the smallish figures. These dancers seem illuminated in a way that strengthens the image, balances it against the magnitude of the setting. Dancers are the foreground. They seem to leap out of or above the place, defining it while being defined by it.

Indeed, a great number of the photos are of girls in flight. Not fleeing, but flying. They leap in ballet poses that enhance the sense of their physical fitness, elegance, and beauty. But mostly what comes across, in part because many of them were invited to talk about their experience as dancers, is their strong sense of self – their distinctive personalities.

Indeed, the voices of the dancers show that they themselves are inspired as well as inspirational. Listen to 13-year old Sonja Giardina at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park:

“Before written language, before the spoken word, there existed the language of the body. A raw form of personal expression unhindered by the boundaries of conscious thought. Dance is pure movement and emotion channeled into a manifestation of one’s true self.”

Givens

At the Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota), Ieree Lundin announces: “Dance tells the stories I can’t get out of my mouth . . . I dance with joy. I dance with fear. I dance to overcome.” See the photos of Ms. Lundin and you will believe her words. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the January 10, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the January 11 Naples and Charlotte County editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Givens

 

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What makes a Jewish photographer Jewish?

The question is explored in the following book, which I’ve reviewed for Jewish Book World.

AFTER WEEGEE: ESSAYS ON CONTEMPORARY JEWISH AMERICAN PHOTOGRAPHERS, by Daniel Morris. Syracuse University Press, 2011.

Professor Morris provides significant insights into and detailed, provocative readings of the photographic art and documentary projects of the imposing photographers discussed in his ten essays. He is sure-handed in surveying their technical and thematic range, keeping his critical language accessible even while projecting an authoritative, scholarly voice. However, the effort of dealing with the Jewish factor is strained and oddly reductive.

Morris notes, over and over again, the social consciousness of these image makers and their concern with the human condition at the margins. The homeless, the dispossessed, the marginalized subjects of their documentary projects are relentlessly tied to the ostensible outsider identity of the photographers, a status that is a consequence of their Jewishness – by definition. (Annie Liebovitz’s celebrity gallery is an exception here, although the show business world her best-known work explores is also considered a Jewish cultural product.)

It could just as well be that people on one side of a camera are almost invariably outsiders to the subject communities they approach and record.

Morris’s study, then, succeeds best as a series of essays and not so well as a thesis-mongering whole. Aside from Liebovits, Arthur Fellig (Weegee), Bruce Davidson, Jim Goldberg, Mel Rosenthal, Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, Allen Ginsberg, Tyagan Miller, Marc Asnin, and Mary Ellen Mark are at the center of these passionately wrought essays.

 Illustrations, index, introduction, works cited. PKJ

NOTE: The Jewish Book Council has enhanced its web site and is now a most attractive and useful place to explore.  I’m attaching the link to my review, and you can find others by me by clicking on my name.  After Weegee

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