Moving through Still | Silver Rebellion

Watching her move it’s impossible not to notice that Valerie carries within her bones a living story of dance.

Valerie Madonia dances fine art photo shoot with photographer Jennifer Koskinen

Whether she’s sipping tea, laughing in a moment of warm friendship, or rolling around in a pile of tulle on the floor, I’m always aware of the soul of her story — a story grounded in a lifetime of creating art. A story she wears effortlessly, cradled within her bones and expressed with a peaceful confidence.

Her movements are accompanied by an inner strength that has clearly been earned over time.

You see, this incredible woman has celebrated fifty seven orbits around the sun, during which she has collected dance, artistry, motherhood and the kind of wisdom that is only born of experience. She has gathered it up and absorbed it on a cellular level.

Her body is home to a lifetime of dance artistry. It lives and breathes through her...

our Denver studio space for this session - where the magic happens!

our Denver studio space for this session - where the magic happens!

. . . as if every dance she’s ever performed has woven itself into the very structure of her bones.

. . . as if the collective musical scores she has known intimately over her career are searching for ways to speak through her movements. 

It’s a quality that a younger dancer has yet to earn: to radiate that kind of story with ease. 

Valerie was plucked out of school as a young girl to train as a ballerina. She went on to dance professionally all over the globe with the likes of Mikhail Baryshnikov and the American Ballet Theatre, the Joffrey Ballet and more (see her bio below).

But time, as we know, dances forward as well.

And so, it’s expected that, after “a certain age,” even the best dancers must quietly leave the stage.

It’s expected that they’ll find something related to dance to occupy their time. Perhaps open a studio and find students to train. To pass the baton to the next generation without question.

Expectations are a funny thing though. 

Perhaps you, too, sometimes feel an urge to break them? To show the world - or just yourself - that there’s more to a story than “expectations” might allow?

Valerie Madonia dances in nest of tulle for fine art photo shoot with photographer Jennifer Koskinen

It took some time for Valerie to fully embrace the fact that I wanted to photograph her BECAUSE of the extraordinary beauty I see in the history that she has earned in her 57 years on earth.

That I wanted to celebrate her FOR her age. As part of a story I have been wanting to tell: 

You see, I want to reshape the narratives we have come to accept on aging through photography.

To empower women so that we may fiercely own our stories at any age. Earned smile-lines and all.

To burst through societal expectations and celebrate this metamorphosis into something even more beautiful. Something gifted only to the very lucky.

And as it turned out, this idea indeed resonated with how Valerie wants to live.

To start writing a new chapter. To keep moving and to keep sharing that celebration of life with others. 

To keep moving. To keep making ART.


Some backstory behind these images.

A year ago we arranged our first session, photographing inside the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver. It was a powerful place to start, framing Valerie as she danced with these life-sized abstract paintings.

BELOW: A sample of our first dance photography session at the museum — you can view the full STORY HERE.

Photographing Valerie inside the museum was deeply seductive. The first breakthrough came when I watched her leap into works of abstract art, dancing with the paintings in a way that created new art inspired by Clyfford Still’s giant canvases. I was captivated by her expressive language. Together we were making photographs, mixing disciplines and creating beautiful art out of art. It felt amazing.

ABOVE: We went back for a second session a few months later which led to a new collection of beautiful images. 


Photographing inside the museum was incredible, but as much as I loved the images, I felt an inexplicable desire to move our project to another location: What could we learn, beyond the gallery? What might we discover without the paintings to spark the initial conversation?

It was a bigger leap than either of us realized, to explore what kind of statements might emerge if we looked inward and placed the focus for our third collaboration on the pure expression of the knowledge and history which lives within her body. The story which might resonate beyond. I watched some behind the scenes iPhone video my son had taken while she moved and it hit me that we didn’t need the paintings. Val’s expressive movement had a narrative voice of its own.

So we shifted our focus on the expressive and mysterious nature of an experienced dancer’s movement. The collective memory which pulses through her.

This time, our session became more about writing a story that was uniquely OURS. But a story which might also be universally understood by anyone who has a body and aspires to keep moving once his or her treasured youth has evolved into something new. A new chapter which carries a new kind of grounded beauty and grace.


Heading to the studio that morning I had a pretty serious case of nerves. Turns out we were both nervous.

Valerie later noted it was like we were both preparing for a performance. And my camera was our audience.

I’ve often told myself that when I stop getting nervous before sessions it’s time to find something new to do in order to keep pushing my own creative edges. My son’s dad once calmed his nerves before a show by saying, “it’s ok to be nervous, it just means you care!” And wow — did this session give me the “I care” butterflies!

We started out photographing Valerie dancing in different flowing dresses. An antique blue velvet gown she’d worn to a gala. A simple nude leotard and some silk fabrics. A bit of shadow-play... exploring… searching (photos above).

But it was when we pulled out the pile of tulle that something magical happened.

In her movement. In my heart.

In the light that was being captured by my camera.

Leading up to this session, I’d been thinking a great deal about the role of narrative in photographs. Especially inspired after viewing large Richard Avedon photographs as part of the Dior exhibit in Denver, I thought about the opportunity to communicate something about Valerie’s story in what she was wearing. The real question was how to do this in a way that didn’t come across as cliche or too literal.

I hadn’t come up with anything yet, but as soon as she wrapped this home made tulle “skirt” around her nude body and started moving, it became clear that the volume and flexibility of this particular pile of fabric — with its own history in the world of dance — opened a doorway into the very story I was hoping we might tell. One that became abstract and full of art as she explored its edges.

I watched the tulle come alive as she pushed and pulled. It seemed to take on the ghostly spirit of every costume and tutu Valerie had ever worn. Collectively, the tulle with her improvisational movement told an entirely new story.

It told many stories in fact. At one point Valerie mentioned that she’d just felt the role she danced in Swan Lake inform a particularly bird-like expression.

Chills.


Part of the impetus to book time in a studio was to have a safe space to experiment with artistic video recording on my Canon dSLR.

Val had been wanting to add this to our narrative tool-kit, but I’d had no experience with video — despite the fact that I’ve been dreaming about adding artful videography to my skillset as a visual story teller for years. This seemed like the perfect time to learn (and was, no doubt, another contributing factor to my nerves that day).

I watched several tutorials the night before and then dove right in as soon as we arrived on set, failing many times before getting results which, to my pleasant surprise, nearly perfectly matched my vision.

Holy moly there’s a lot to learn but I’m thrilled to have taken the first leap, and quite proud of our first results.

Exploring movement of tulle and expression of body was a great place for me to dig deep as an artist and learn a new medium.

Experimenting with manual focus to create a sense of mystery and discovery for the viewer; learning to shoot at a high frame rate to be able to convert the video to slow motion; learning to edit these “moving pictures” in Photoshop to match the still photographs and create a cohesive story — it was all enormously gratifying.

I’d love for you to check out our first short video story below:


Valerie and I have approached each of these “art for art’s sake” sessions, importantly I think, without expectation or attachment to outcome.

Our goal has been discovery... pure creation. And as a result, each session has unfolded in an entirely organic fashion and taught us new things about our collaboration. And ourselves.

Two artists improvising. Exploring. Learning.

For me, this creative journey is deeply expansive. It taps into a different part of my brain to have no agenda beyond being receptive to the moment. Similar to a feeling I get with learning a director’s style with live theatre photography (I come to instinctively anticipate where to be to capture depth in staging), when we do these sessions I feel myself fall into a dance with Valerie as I travel the space with my camera in anticipation of her movement.

Watching, breathing, feeling the rhythm of the improvised dance. I direct her only minimally, and almost always in direct response to something she has done. “Ooh can you do that again facing the window so I see light on your face” or “I’m feeling bird expressions here, can we expand on that?” Or in our museum shoot, “Oh my God you just leapt and became part of the painting in the frame! We need to play with that!”

Improvisation. Capturing on instinct.

It’s a dance of a different kind: the dance of the photographer.

Wherever this goes, both of us feel ourselves opening to something new through this work. It feels vulnerable and intimate. While at the same time profoundly liberating and expansive.

Moody, mysterious, layered and expressive.

Like a dancer moving into her second act.

Valerie strikes triumphant pose in flowing tulle during photo session with Denver dance photographer Jennifer Koskinen

Most satisfying with this work are the moments you don’t plan. Moments of pure serendipitous magic. Do you see her eye in the tulle below? It’s a photograph which captures the spirit of my very favorite expression brought to life:

Work hard, and you’ll get lucky.

Valerie Madonia dances for fine art photo shoot photographer Jennifer Koskinen

ABOUT VALERIE MADONIA (DANCER): Valerie Madonia began her dance training with Maris Battaglia at the American Academy of Ballet in Buffalo, NY and left home at the age of 14 to continue at the National Ballet School of Canada, graduating in 1979. She was a recipient of the prestigious Peter Dwyer Award for Dance Excellence. She danced professionally with the National Ballet of Canada 1979-1981 (under the direction of Alexander Grant), at American Ballet Theatre 1981-1986 (under Mikhail Baryshnikov) and at the Joffrey Ballet 1987- 1997 (under Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino).
 
Ms. Madonia began as a member of the corps de ballet eventually establishing herself as a leading ballerina with the Joffrey Ballet. She had the honor of dancing as a company member with Alonzo Kings Lines Ballet, Armitage Gone! Dance, Complexions Dance, Configuration Ballet and as a guest artist with Alaska Dance Theatre, Russian Ballet Theatre, Lemon Sponge Cake Contemporary Ballet, and at Le Gala des Etoiles numerous times in Montreal and Greece. She performed the role of the Princess in Stravinsky's L'Histoire du Soldat at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival in 2001 and with the New York Philharmonic in 2005, conducted by Alan Gilbert and accompanied by Pinkus Zuckerman. Madonia appeared in six PBS Dance in America Specials and is featured in four dance books, most prominently in, Classical Ballet Technique, by G.W. Warren. She performed the role of Madge in Colorado Ballet’s 2015 production of La Sylphide and as the Queen in it’s 2017 Swan Lake.
 
Her choreographic credits include the full length Ballets: Cinderella for Louisiana Delta Ballet, The Nutcracker, Polar Express and Appalachian Spring for Telluride Dance Academy and Ames Conservatory, Shapeshift for Boulder Ballet in addition to new works for the NYC Dance Now Festival, Sunday Salons and Les Patineurs for Colorado Ballet’s Pre-professional Division, Solo works for professional dancers in Colorado Ballet, YAGP competitions, Ballet West and Dayton Ballet. In 2016 she staged staged Gerald Arpino’s Light Rain Pas de Deux for Colorado Ballet.

ABOUT JENNIFER (PHOTOGRAPHER): After a ten year career as an architect, Jennifer is currently an Award Winning, Denver based photographer, specializing in actor headshots and high school senior portraits. She is also an accomplished theatre and dance production photographer, having worked with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, the Denver Center Theatre Company and Denver School of the Arts. She specializes in creating a positive experience and helping clients find their value through photography, fostering a sense of connection in her work, and bringing out personality in her clients while celebrating THEIR work. Her published theatrical photography work has run all around the world, and has appeared in American Theatre Magazine, The New York Times, Playbill.com, Broadway World and the Denver Post, to name a few.

ABOUT THE TULLE: A very special thanks to Catherine Kelly for donating the amazing tulle skirt which she handmade for her senior portraits and donated to me after her session. If you’re curious to see the skirt in its original form, check out her story.

Moving through Still | Dance Photography and the Paintings of Clyfford Still in Denver

The arts run deep in my family. 

Growing up, I thought it was really cool that my grandfather was an artist. I earned an Art & Art History major in college before becoming an architect and eventually a photographer. Within a few generations we have a concert pianist, an interior designer, a jewelry designer, painters, writers, architects, actors and a photographer. 

I've always felt most alive with a creative tool in my hand -- a pencil, a camera, even a computer (to write or design) or a paintbrush. Creative spaces of all kinds excite me -- museums, galleries, theaters, libraries and studios.

Artists and creators are my muses, my subjects and forever my inspiration. 

I mention all of this because several people asked both Valerie and I why we were doing this project. And the answer is quite simple: it was born in this space -- this love of creativity.

We just decided to make art. Art for Art's Sake.

And I mean really: Art combined with dance and photography… it sounds like a dreamy mix, doesn't it?

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My creative collaborator -- my "partner in art" -- for this project is my treasured friend Valerie Madonia, an accomplished dancer in the world of ballet (seriously accomplished -- check out her bio below).

I have known Valerie since our days of living in Telluride and have wanted to photograph her for years. When I first approached her I only knew that I wanted to photograph her, but the details were still murky in my head. I wanted to create striking images that involved her dance background and her graceful presence as an accomplished, poised and beautiful woman. 

Enter the Clyfford Still Museum. My background as an architect made me quick to fall in love with this unique space when it first opened in Denver. Huge abstract artworks on display in a building designed specifically to show this artist's paintings. The museum is impeccably detailed with beautiful proportions, overlapping spaces, strong architectural materials in natural earth tones, and architecturally designed to take advantage of Colorado's consistent natural light to illuminate the artwork.

When I learned we could photograph inside the museum (with special permits), I suspected I’d finally found the location for our first shoot. Valerie and I toured on one of her visits to Denver. We set it up with proper permits and got to work planning our photoshoot, still not altogether clear on an end goal -- other than to make art for the fun of it.


BEFORE I CONTINUE... A FEW WORDS ON ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM: If you're not familiar with the roots of abstract art, this genre of art is non-representational. Expand the photos below (from inside the Clyfford Still Museum) to see the evolution from more representational art to abstraction in both Clyfford Still's artwork, and in the larger context of art history.

In these demonstrations (which I photographed at the Clyfford Still Museum), you can see that while elements of abstract art are often derived originally from figures, landscapes and more traditional still life subjects, in their final form the compositions may be openly interpreted by those who experience the art. 

It is this idea of artistic interpretation that most excited me about photographing Valerie in this space.

I anticipated that her breadth of experience as a dancer and choreographer, along with her vision as an artist would all lend themselves to compelling choreographed movement in her reactions to the motion she felt in viewing Still's paintings. My own instincts on this were not wrong...

As I moved around the space with my camera, watching her move, I asked simply, "what do you see?" and directed very minimally, only reacting for compositional or framing purposes. Together we moved through the museum, creating and capturing, from painting to painting. My perspective kept switching from the physical space and relationships between gallery, painting and dancer, to the framed composition within a photograph.

During my years as an architectural photographer, this interplay between three dimensional design and two dimensional photography always excited me, but the opportunity to play with these parameters -- now with a moving dancer -- was creatively satisfying on a whole new level. 

My heart leapt right with Valerie's movements as I watched her improvised choreography transform the artwork before my eyes. Paintings came alive in ways I hadn't previously perceived as she danced with them. Sometimes in quiet contemplation.

Other times it was as if she leapt right into the compositions and became a part of the paintings themselves.

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In this block of creative, "art for art's sake" time we were transported into a world of imagination, color, movement and the beauty of dance. A world of where dance choreography meets improvisation. 

This is a world where three dimensional space can flatten into a framed composition in a celebration of the human body and art -- where photography allows something frozen in time to remain full of life. 

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After finishing this shoot, Valerie and I sat at a coffee shop and scrolled through the collection of images. Exhilarated and filled with satisfaction and inspiration, we realized this would most definitely be the first chapter in a larger dance photography project...

So stay tuned...


ABOUT VALERIE MADONIA (DANCER): Valerie Madonia began her dance training with Maris Battaglia at the American Academy of Ballet in Buffalo, NY and left home at the age of 14 to continued at the National Ballet School of Canada, graduating in 1979. She was a recipient of the prestigious Peter Dwyer Award for Dance Excellence. She danced professionally with the National Ballet of Canada 1979-1981 (under the direction of Alexander Grant), at American Ballet Theatre 1981-1986 (under Mikhail Baryshnikov) and at the Joffrey Ballet 1987- 1997 (under Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino).
 
Ms. Madonia began as a member of the corps de ballet eventually establishing herself as a leading ballerina with the Joffrey Ballet. She had the honor of dancing as a company member with Alonzo Kings Lines Ballet, Armitage Gone! Dance, Complexions Dance, Configuration Ballet and as a guest artist with Alaska Dance Theatre, Russian Ballet Theatre, Lemon Sponge Cake Contemporary Ballet, and at Le Gala des Etoiles numerous times in Montreal and Greece. She performed the role of the Princess in Stravinsky's L'Histoire du Soldat at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival in 2001 and with the New York Philharmonic in 2005, conducted by Alan Gilbert and accompanied by Pinkus Zuckerman. Madonia appeared in six PBS Dance in America Specials and is featured in four dance books, most prominently in, Classical Ballet Technique, by G.W. Warren. She performed the role of Madge in Colorado Ballet’s 2015 production of La Sylphide and as the Queen in it’s 2017 Swan Lake.
 
Her choreographic credits include the full length Ballets: Cinderella for Louisiana Delta Ballet, The Nutcracker, Polar Express and Appalachian Spring for Telluride Dance Academy and Ames Conservatory,  Shapeshift for Boulder Ballet in addition to new works for the NYC Dance Now Festival, Sunday Salons and Les Patineurs for Colorado Ballet’s Pre -professional Division, Solo works for professional dancers in  Colorado Ballet, YAGP competitions, Ballet West and Dayton Ballet. In 2016 she staged staged Gerald Arpino’s Light Rain Pas de Deux  for Colorado Ballet.

ABOUT JENNIFER (PHOTOGRAPHER): After a ten year career as an architect, Jennifer is currently an Award Winning, Denver based photographer, specializing in actor headshots and high school senior portraits. She is also an accomplished theatre and dance production photographer, having worked with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, the Denver Center Theatre Company and Denver School of the Arts. She specializes in creating a positive experience and helping clients find their value through photography, fostering a sense of connection in her work, and bringing out personality in her clients while celebrating THEIR work. Her published theatrical photography work has run all around the world, and has appeared in American Theatre Magazine, The New York Times, Playbill.com, Broadway World and the Denver Post, to name a few.

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FINALLY: A special thanks to the wonderful staff and curators at the Clyfford Still Museum for a lovely experience. I highly recommend a visit to this unique museum in the heart of Denver's growing arts district.

Photographers, please note that a photography permit is required in advance to photograph subjects in this space.

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"Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life."

- Pablo Picasso

Art for Heart's Sake

Today, I got to make ART.

For the sake of art. In the spirit of collaboration and creativity.

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Even better, I got to make art ... in a museum ... with a treasured co-conspirator in the arts.

My muse was my gorgeous, extraordinarily talented friend Valerie. A life-long dancer with unparalleled grace in her movement through life. Someone who shares the calling to create art with her life's work... and sometimes purely for the sake of art.

We got to make art that was inspired by art. Giant, abstract expressionist art came to life in a whole new way before us as Valerie danced.

We made art inspired by the “life-lines” that run vertically through so many of Clyfford Still’s vibrant paintings. Inspired by the movement we found in his colorful canvases and the sumptuous light in this special space, a museum designed specifically to house this one artist’s prolific body of work.

Downloading the photos tonight brought me intense happiness (I may or may not have shed a tear) -- watching what we had created come to life image by image on my monitor. What a liberating experience it is to create art for the sake of seeing, for capturing a moment, feeling depth of color and composition with no agenda outside of discovery, and possibly a desire to share (if anything ends up being worth sharing). The act of sharing would be like icing on the cake. For what it’s worth, after today, I'm so excited to share what we found in there that I'm here with a sneak peek, something I hardly EVER do.

SNEAK PEEK: this is a low quality iphone photo of my monitor, highlighting a few unedited images as they downloaded from my camera tonight. Final Images are yet to come... watch this space!

SNEAK PEEK: this is a low quality iphone photo of my monitor, highlighting a few unedited images as they downloaded from my camera tonight. Final Images are yet to come... watch this space!

My heart is full. And I'm left with a strong emotion that, especially given the uncertainty and unrest in the world, we all need to remind each other to make moments for those things which make our hearts full. Discovery, creativity, adventure, love.

Thank you, Valerie, for your beautiful heart, for your life’s art, and for coming to Denver to share this crazy idea with me. And for letting me collaborate with your dance today. I can’t wait to share the final photographs!

Grace | Cheers to Celebrating to STRONG Girls with Portraits

Celebrating STRONG GIRLS... That’s what it’s all about.

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Strength: overcoming challenge, maintaining positive outlook, self advocacy. These are all examples of grace to me, and this girl exemplifies these qualities beautifully. What's extra cool is that I also always find myself thinking, laughing and feeling happy in her intelligent and fun-loving company.

Naturally, when asked, I jumped at the opportunity to create portraits of this amazing young woman for the American Physical Therapy Association. These portraits of Isa were commissioned for a campaign they launched recently, featuring inspiring stories of strength, healing, and second chances reached through physical therapy. As a passionate young dancer whose life was transformed by her injury and process of recovery, Isa’s story was particularly compelling. She has since shifted her focus to theatre arts, but you can just feel how her former dancer and experience with injury has given her poise, strength and perspective.

The session itself was a blast. We had planned an urban session, featuring her dancer poise and flexibility subtlely, but to really place the portrait emphasis on HER and her own strength as a person.

I MAY have mentioned this once or twice… but wandering the streets and alleys of downtown Denver with an adorable person to photograph is seriously one of my favorite things to do. Finding light, texture, color, interesting compositions (and even reflections to mimic a dancer studio!) AND having a beautiful young woman to pose… it’s really a dream for me!

The APTA purchased all rights to their favorite 2 images (which is always nice for a photographer, but means I can’t show them here)... but I’m happy to be able to share some of the “outtakes” from this incredibly fun and rewarding photo session, showcasing Isa’s strength, both physically and as an incredible human.

sorry... gotta add one final fun photo with my assistant!

sorry... gotta add one final fun photo with my assistant!

Here’s to your bright future, you absolutely beautiful, intelligent and strong young woman -- we are so happy to know you!

I’m a Denver based portrait photographer specializing in empowering sessions for my clients, as well as drawing out personality and natural expression. Portrait sessions are always custom designed and styled around YOU, and are immersive, fun and empowering experiences, to boot. Let’s talk about designing a photo session for you!

The Art of Live Theatre Performance Photography | Denver Stage Production Photographer

My love of theatre and stage was born in high school. Singing was my thing, so naturally, I loved musicals. Being on stage and belting out a musical number was heaven to me. But acting -- having lines to deliver -- let alone in character -- while trying to remember blocking, props, being aware of other actors and having new director’s notes to assimilate -- that was all rather terrifying to me.

Tony Award Nominee Beth Malone in The Unsinkable Molly Brown at the Denver Center Theatre Company. Photo by Jennifer Koskinen | Merritt Design Photo

Having spent just enough time ON stage to have even a tiny taste of what goes into it, I am completely, utterly, wholly in AWE of actors. The courage it takes to be unabashedly vulnerable combined with the intuitive ability to inhabit the lives of others to tell a story is profoundly inspiring to me.

Storytellers, in general, have my utmost respect -- the desire alone to tell a story that could make someone feel, think, or widen perspective -- it's a beautiful thing to me. But being able to tell a story while in character, and to do it with nuance, humanity and honesty… that is a gift that I find to be ridiculously amazing. RESPECT.

In recent years I’ve discovered that my own gifts with regards to the theatre may not have been given in the realm of any discernible acting talent -- but -- I DO feel blessed to have found a profession in which I'm able to capture live performances in all their ephemeral light and magic. Or at least I feel honored to be asked to TRY to capture some of that magic!

Theatre is, by nature, fleeting. It's alive with the particular conditions of the moment in which it is breathing. So to photograph a production -- to attempt to best capture a design team's work, as well as specific moments based on their theatrical, artistic, aesthetic and compositional quality -- is no small thing.

These moments, captured in still photographs, become part of the collective memory of a particular story, cast, design team and production company.

[ Note: click on photos to view larger and for actor and production credits ]

A CHRISTMAS CAROL at the Denver Center Theatre Company

When I'm working with professional theaters, I shoot during the final dress, designated as a "photo call" rehearsal -- Ideally this is a full costume, full tech running performance with no audience. In an ideal world, I've been able to attend a rehearsal prior to shooting, but this isn't always possible, so sometimes I shoot never having seen the material, the light, the set or the staging, and I need to be able to react quickly to whatever conditions may present themselves during the run, viewing the performance in those cases, essentially through my lens alone. It's surreal and incredibly exhilarating (read: anxiety producing).

Technical expertise is a critical starting point. While the technology is improving, cameras aren't yet capable of seeing the dynamic range of shadows to highlights that a human eye can see, which means getting things as close as possible in camera, then extra editing time to get shadows and highlights to look natural in each photo. Oh, and that low light? It's constantly changing and often has colored gels on it! Colors and luminosity typically vary widely throughout a show, and the effects are amplified when falling on a variety of costumes, changing set design and texture, different skin tones and other elements of production design, requiring experience and comfort with the ability to constantly be adjusting one's camera settings throughout the show.

Set, costume and lighting design often feature low light, high contrast and varying color to help tell the story, pushing the limits of even the best equipment, and ALWAYS keeping a theatre photographer on his or her toes!

Once you get used to constantly changing technical conditions, the real art is in being in the right place at the right time to capture a human moment and an interesting composition. This, of course, is largely dependent on a not so perfect formula of experience, anticipation, and good timing!  It's a workout running non-stop for often over 2 hours, carrying heavy cameras and lenses the whole time. OH! And let's not forget that for final dress, there are still many obstacles in the house (lightboards, stage managers, directors, designers... all of their dinners, computers, electrical cords, etc.), and inevitably in your way as you run madly while watching action with your equipment through the theater. In the dark. Yes. I am often bruised the next day from running into chair arms with my thighs!

Ultimately, photographic composition in the theatre is part magic, and part math -- a dynamic and always changing formula based on where you are standing relative to where actors are moving within a space.

Getting to know work with the same theaters, actors, designers and directors more than once is always advantageous, and I love it when, ideally, there's time to scout a rehearsal prior to photographing a show. These things allow me to better anticipate blocking, staging, light, and the potential inherent in a particular production. I watch for appealing compositions as well -- I particularly love the opportunity to photograph a downstage (foreground) actor looking out over the camera, eyes to the light, another actor out of focus in the background, and I definitely need to be in the right place at the right time in order to catch this shot. Shakespearean soliloquies aside, it's often a very fleeting moment!

Capturing expression in an actor's EYES -- especially when he or she is facing the light is my absolute favorite! Lit eyes are critical to most any portrait as they convey so much expression, and here, capturing the soul of a character in a living, breathing moment is my ultimate goal.

[ Seriously... click on photos to view larger -- especially with these EYES -- and for actor and production credits ]

Of course, weave into all of this the fact that this is living, moving action -- actors are people, and people do blink… if someone blinks, they blink, and I move on to try to catch the next moment! Cards need to be changed and there's not always a convenient moment to change them. When the moment is gone, it’s gone forever. There are shots I've missed (some still haunt me)...

In many respects, live "running shoot" production photography is similar to wedding photography: it's not for the faint of heart, nor is it for the lazy. And like when I was shooting weddings, I still get nervous before every single shoot. Every. Single. One. It's unpredictable, constantly moving, and un-repeatable.

But… Oh my goodness when I GET THE SHOT... The one that captures the emotion of a scene… the shot that tells a piece of the story or hints with nuance at the essence of a character… or freezes a moment of soul, comedy or action …

Kathleen McCall in BENEDICTION at the Denver Center Theatre Company, photo by Jennifer Koskinen, Merritt Design Photo

One of my all time favorite photos! All credit for this amazing capture goes to my assistant, who was 14 years old at the time, and a former cast member of this production at the Denver Center Theatre Company. Allen Dorsey, above, captured mid-leap in the Fezziwig scene of A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Photo by Gabe Koskinen, Merritt Design Photo

. . . there’s no more satisfying feeling than capturing that perfect moment. Patience, experience, stamina, passion, and no small amount of luck all factor into the photos that make the final cut. I often hear myself audibly gasp while sitting at my computer editing production photos. A fresh photo pops up on the screen and suddenly I'm reliving a moment that positively takes my breath away...

Ultimately, my gratitude circles back and is given wholly to the incredibly talented teams of storytellers and designers who create beautiful, performance art. From their passion and art I get to hopefully create another layer of art. A documentation of an experience that hopefully will, in some small way, get to live on long after the curtain has come down.

When I get it right, I help in some small way to tell the story of the storytellers.

And I love it to no end.

CHEERS!!  Leonard E Barret, Jr is the Ghost of Christmas Present in A CHRISTMAS CAROL at the Denver Center Theatre Company. Photo: Jennifer Koskinen | Merritt Design Photo

NOTE: Click any image to see Actor, Production and Company credits.

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ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER: Jennifer Koskinen is an internationally published theatre, dance and stage production photographer based in Denver Colorado. She recently was brought on as the production photographer for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival after multiple seasons photographing live theatre for the Denver Center for Performing Arts Theatre Company. She has also volunteered with the Denver School of the Arts Theatre Department, capturing actor headshots and staged productions for the past 4 years. Her photos have appeared in around the world, and in publications such as the New York Times, Playbill, American Theatre Magazine, The Denver Post, and Broadway World, to name just a few.