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Dance photographer extraordinaire
After graduating from Goldsmiths School Of Art, London with a BA (hons) in Fine Art, Chris Nash assisted portrait photographer Geg Germany for two years and then began working as a freelance photographer. Since then he has built a reputation as 'one of the most creative photographers of his generation' (The Late Show, BBC2 Arts programme) and has held over 40 exhibitions of his Dance photographs in 15 different countries.
Chris Nash's entry into the world of dance photography coincided with the rise to prominence of the post-modern dance movement that became known in Britain as 'New Dance'. This playfully ironic blend of classical, ethnic and 'street' movement demanded a new vision for the way dance was represented in photography. Nash's early promotional work for emerging companies like the Featherstonehaughs, The Cholmondleys and Adventures in Motion Pictures is, of course, included in this show, as well as his most recent output displaying the latest digital photographic techniques.
His work is marked by a rare ability to explore graphically the intentions of dancers and choreographers, often before a dance has been fully conceived (stemming from the demands of advance publicity deadlines). The resulting images are as far removed from the standard dance photograph (partly due to the influence of Nash's Fine Art training at Goldsmith's School Of Art) as the dance works themselves are from traditional ballet. His strong impact on contemporary dance has led to Nash being the recipient of awards such as the Dance Umbrella/Time Out Award 'For helping to make the face of dance more recognisable'.
Aside from his dance photography, Chris Nash pictures can be found on advertising billboards, in fashion catalogues and on album covers for the likes of the Pet Shop Boys and Jamiroquai.
Chris also has a couple of books to his name: A Glance At The Toes 40 page monograph published by Creative Monochrome and La Danse Dans Le Monde Limited Edition hardback book featuring 32 duotones, published by Centre International De Bagnolet, France. More recently he has turned to installation, video projection and computerised image manipulation, and is currently touring a new exhibition, StopMotion - Twenty Years of Dance Photograph.
The StopMotion exhibition is the first retrospective of its kind: a remarkable collection of images created over the past twenty years by Chris Nash. Internationally acclaimed as the leading dance photographer of his generation, Nash's photographs have come to define the British dance world during one of its most innovative and exciting periods. This exhibition of around 200 prints gives a unique insight into the British Dance world and is curated by Nash himself. It coincides with Dance Umbrella and after its first view in this country at the National Theatre until 27 October, it will continue on a national and international tour.
Ephotozine caught up with Chris for this exclusive interview:
ePHOTOzine: How did you become involved in photography?
Chris Nash: Sort of by default - I was making large pieces of sculpture at Art School that I had nowhere to store, so my only method of preservation was photography. I suppose I just got more and more interested in the photography and less and less in the sculpture.
EPZ: Which photographers did you admire and why?
CN: I think the photographer that gave me the biggest jolt and influence was Mapplethorpe. The cool classical approach to a hot romantic subject, the ability to make people look at something they might not otherwise look at, his lighting and printing (which subsequently turned out to be more to do with Tom Baril, but never mind) all gave me a direction and had an influence on my work - though you might be hard-pressed to spot it.
EPZ: What is the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you?
CN: When I was assisting, the photographer I worked for told me that my job was to make him look good in front of the client, in a kind of 'good cop, bad cop' way. As an assistant, so long as I remembered this, I was ok, even though my technical ability was zero. Now that I can afford to employ the occasional assistant, that thought still makes me smile.
EPZ: You have a Degree in fine art. What was the course like? What was the main thing you took from this?
CN: Goldsmiths School Of Art was (and still is) the main instigator of the conceptual art movement of the 80s and 90s, so I suppose that instilled in me the process of starting with the idea and working from there. If the idea is good and clear in your mind, everything else will follow.
EPZ: You assisted Geg Germany for a couple of years, what was that like?
CN: See above. Geg did mostly editorial, photographing people in situ for the weekend magazines, so it taught me a lot of lighting techniques in a lot of different situations. He also did a 'safety shot' and then tried something a little more ambitious, which I appreciated.
EPZ: What made you specialise in dance photography?
CN: Because I found it an endlessly fascinating subject, because I could be very free creatively, because I enjoyed the collaboration, because there weren't many other people doing it, because dancers are great people to work with....
EPZ: How do you plan a shoot?
CN: It's a bit of a mix between planning ahead and on the spot improvisation. I like to talk with the choreographer about their ideas for the piece and then I might suggest an approach and we get a bit of a dialogue going. Sometimes I'll try to achieve something very specific, other times we might just improvise around a loose theme. I try to remain responsive to what's happening in front of me so that I can alter my technique or ideas as appropriate. I suppose I like working in this way because the outcome is usually fairly open, even when you take into consideration the demands of the marketing and graphic design people.
EPZ: Dance is motion and photography is still - what do you do to create movement?
CN: Umm - the dancers are moving, so that generally helps... I suppose I try to pick a moment that implies what has just happened and what is about to happen.
EPZ: You use a lot of strong colour in your images. How do you decide whether to take this approach or black & white?
CN: Dance companies use both, so I shoot both.
EPZ: How was the transition from traditional to digital?
CN: I knew I wanted to do it, I just didn't know what was going to be the best way. It took me a year of research to make up my mind, then a month or so of head-banging teaching myself to use the computer and software. I still use film and conventional photography techniques, but then I scan everything into the computer and continue working on it.
EPZ: What involvement do you have in digital manipulation?
CN: I do it all.
EPZ: Do you print your own photographs?
CN: I print my own B&W for exhibitions and I use the computer for colour work and then output as required. I never learnt how to print colour so the computer enables me to make all those darkroom 'printing' decisions as well as allowing me to collage and manipulate to my heart's content.
EPZ: What piece of photographic gear couldn't you be without?
CN: My computer.
EPZ: You have a reputation as being one of the most creative photographers of your generation. How does that feel and what pressures does it bring?
CN: That doesn't bring any pressure. I just try and concentrate on meeting those deadlines - that brings pressure.
EPZ: What's it feel like seeing your photos used on album covers?
CN: Not as good as seeing those cheques bump up my bank balance.
EPZ: You curate your own show. What advice would you give to other photographers wanting to set up exhibitions?
CN: Make sure you can cover the costs, maximise the publicity, view it as advertising.
EPZ: You've had exhibitions all over the world. Does any one stand out as being the best?
CN: The best one was Tokyo - 5 Star treatment all the way, beautifully organised show, so many surreal moments, great food, great city, great people, - it was a fabulous 10 day holiday with all expenses paid.
EPZ: Has the internet helped you promote your work?
CN: Yes. I use my website as a virtual portfolio for potential clients/galleries.
EPZ: What inspires you?
CN: The people I work with. And trying to keep in credit.
EPZ: What is your unfulfilled dream?
CN: Ford never made a soft-top Capri.....
To see more of Chris' images go to Royal National Theatre, South Bank, London SE1 9PX. www.nationaltheatre.org.uk phone: 020 7452 3000.