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.

Actor and Professional Headshots: Urban vs Natural Light Studio

I offer two options for my actor and professional headshot clients: 1) natural light in urban location or 2) natural light studio.

Either way, I have spent my photography career learning to master natural light and am confident that how I use light will be flattering and natural in either location. The differences in the location types boil down to A) what is behind you and B) the experience you desire while on your photoshoot.

I thought I’d do a quick post sharing some examples of what is possible in the studio vs on location, along with a few words on the pros and cons of each.

1. OUTSIDE: URBAN, CONTEMPORARY, VIBRANT, APPROACHABLE, PROFESSIONAL HEADSHOTS

Sessions shot outdoors are a bit more improvisational than in the studio, as both you and I will be responding to the immediate conditions of that day, weather, light and location. People tell me often that they to appreciate the “depth” they see in my outdoor photos, which serves to push the focus to the connection they can feel in my subjects’ eyes. I always start in an area which is slightly removed from crowds, so you’ll feel comfortable, yet alive with the vibrance of the city. There’s a fun energy created on these sessions which is reflected in the style of the photos, and I believe reacting in the urban environment leads to part of the very "natural" expressions we get out there. These sessions are always vibrant and fresh.

behind-the-scenes-photographer-merritt-portrait-urban.jpg

Urban Street Session BENEFITS:

vibrant, energetic, colorful, depth in backgrounds

eye-catching, memorable, unique

professional

Urban Street Session CHALLENGES:

weather can be an issue (mostly wind, but can also add element of fresh, natural movement)

must pack wardrobe to carry (rolling suitcase is best)


2. NATURAL LIGHT STUDIO: MODERN, CLEAN, CONTROLLED ENVIRONMENT HEADSHOTS

My natural light studio is a shared co-op space, so does require advanced booking. In here, the light is consistent and beautiful. It is quiet and a controlled setting, which for some people can be preferable. I have a few different seamless backdrop options, so you won’t be getting the stiff, traditional yearbook background! These sessions are modern, comfortable and consistently beautiful.

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Natural Light Studio BENEFITS:

controlled, predictable, quiet

neutral, professional look

easy to change and keep wardrobe at studio

Natural Light Studio CHALLENGES:

shared studio space can be harder to book

not as much depth in photos (if that's important to you)

 

IN SUMMARY... Either way you go, even if you're not comfortable with the idea of getting in front of the camera, my promise to you is that you'll end up having a great experience!

LEARN MORE ABOUT ACTOR & PROFESSIONAL HEADSHOT SESSIONS WITH JENNIFER :

Pop Portraiture | Senior Pictures with a Comedic Twist

OK so first off, Greetings! It has been a while! The beginning of a new year is always a quiet time of reflection, and assessing business goals for my portrait studio for the year, and regrouping after the craziness of summer, fall and winter sessions. It was an incredible year for my photography business, and I’m ready to get back and blog some of last year’s amazing SENIOR SESSIONS!!

And seriously, who better to start that off with than THIS AMAZING HUMAN!!

senior portrait with comedic, snl feel in Denver, photographer Jennifer Koskinen, Merritt Portrait Studio

I find it completely impossible not to smile around Cammy (actually his whole family is pretty smile-inducing). Talented, bright, and with a spirit and laugh that is positively infectious. His enthusiasm for life and for supporting those around him inspires me and makes my soul happy (seriously, this next generation is pretty awesome).

Fun, colorful pop senior photos in Denver, by photographer Jennifer Koskinen, Merritt Portrait Studio

When he described his unique vision for his senior photos, I was excited for a session that fell a bit outside my normal high school senior comfort zone. For this one, we were going to create SNL-inspired, vibrant and fun “bumper” style photos, drawing on Cammy’s comedic, fun loving personality and adding colorful, pop / poster style effects in post production. We collected and shared ideas via Pinterest, booked time in my studio co-op, and we were off!

Happy, studio senior picture photostrip in Denver, by photographer Jennifer Koskinen, Merritt Portrait Studio

As you can clearly see, this kid has personality for miles, so capturing authentic expression genuinely was a an effortless process, essentially we enjoyed a session of mostly joking around and sharing copious laughter, with some intermittent actual photographing!

Fun, colorful pop senior photos in Denver, by photographer Jennifer Koskinen, Merritt Portrait Studio

Post processing his set was incredibly satisfying. I initially learned to use photoshop back in my architecture days, applying textures to 3D models I’d built in AutoCAD. So a photoshop project in portrait work taps into an old skillset for me, and it was really fun to stretch those muscles! Color and effects were added to provide the POP of our desired visual aesthetic.

Playful senior pictures in Denver, photographer Jennifer Koskinen, Merritt Portrait Studio

Thank you, Cammy, for your talent, your spirit, your kindness… and for inviting me to be part of your senior picture experience and vision! I’ve been looking forward to this collaboration for years!

ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER: I’m a fun-loving Denver high school senior portrait photographer specializing in bringing out connection, personality in the EYES by giving my clients more than just senior pictures for their yearbook. In collaboration with each client I design an immersive and empowering portrait experience, custom tailored around the personality, style and interests of each awesome senior. Let’s grab a coffee and chat about designing an amazing high school senior photo shoot for you!

The Artist Studio | Redthreaded Editorial Photos

For quite some time now I’ve been dreaming of a series of editorial / documentary style photos essays on Artists in their Studios...

redthreaded-studio-portrait-boulder

... a photo from our editorial STYLED SESSION at Blanc, Denver

Seamstress and costume designer Cynthia Settje opened Redthreaded in 2009, and recently moved her workshop and studio to its new home outside of Boulder, CO. Her historically inspired costume work is of the highest caliber, and has earned her clients from university stages to television to Broadway.

I have been loving collaborations with this talented woman ever since photographing her work this past summer for Colorado Shakespeare Festival.

In case you missed it, THIS styled session featuring a new line of her corset designs was an opportunity to create pure collaborative magic.

Naturally, I jumped at the chance to photograph Cindy’s headshots in the space she has designed for her incredibly successful costume shop.

Since Cindy invited me to come to her studio for headshots, I couldn't resist the opportunity to turn the photoshoot it into a bit more of a story than just taking "headshots."

I’d like to think of this session as the first in a series that I’ve long dreamed of photographing... artists at work in the spaces they've designed as their creative homes.

Perhaps it's the former Art Major in me... perhaps its the former architectural designer, but whatever the origin, I’m drawn to the idea of documenting the magic of a creative soul in his or her environment.

How artists design and work in their spaces to best foster productivity -- both from a functional perspective, and to keep themselves inspired -- is a fascinating study in personality, creativity, light and design.

I invite you to visit Redthreaded online, as well as Cindy’s etsy shop for more information and to see more of her extraordinary work. Her instagram feed is also amazing… and it all happens right in here!

Thanks also to the amazing Sara Duffey for beautiful hair & makeup!

And if YOU are an artist with a studio or unique creative space, or if you know someone who might be a good subject for this fun artist's studio series, please let me know!!

I’m a Denver based portrait and editorial photographer specializing in bringing out connection, personality and story for my clients and their stories. I love to create empowering photo session experiences, custom tailored around the personality and interests of each individual client. I would love to chat with you about documenting your creativity or story!

Meet Katie | Gorgeous Personal Branding Portraits in Denver

I have known Katie for the better part of a decade (how is that even possible?!) We met when we both lived in Telluride and have been through a LOT together. I photographed this session before I had this lovely blog, but I was just looking through her photos the other day (big computer switch-over / data migration in the works!) and realized I loved them too much not to share. I'm thinking of this as a beloved post in the spirit of a “throwback” Thursday!

personal-branding-portraits-denver-merritt-portrait-studio

Let me just preface this by saying: Katie is a veritable rock star.

For real: I’ve seen her sing and dance her heart out. I’ve seen her laugh until she cried (and laughed through my own tears right along with her). I’ve seen her be granite strong in the face of adversity. She is a fiercely intelligent and creative entrepreneur, a mother, a caretaker, friend, and also somehow has energy left to be the fun and sexy life of the party.

She is amazing, strong, smart, powerful, fun, and a dear friend. Oh, and hello? She’s freaking gorgeous… inside and out.

I’ve photographed her family several times before, yet still I’ve gotta admit... I was a touch intimidated when she asked me to photograph her personal branding portraits for her new coaching business. Photographing close friends (especially ones I’ve known since before I was officially a photographer) is a surreal experience to begin with. But I happen to know just HOW much personality this beautiful woman has... I really wanted the photos to kick as much butt as she does!

Part of my nervousness always comes from the fact that a photo session is intimate in a way that almost lends itself more easily to working with people you DON’T know that well, as counter-intuitive as that may sound. I share a side of myself with my clients that is almost embarrassingly honest, unabashedly supportive, and I willingly reveal how floored I am by the beauty I see in my clients. And I often act like a complete fool -- torquing my body for the best angle, sometimes literally jumping with delight when I am inspired -- it’s pretty ridiculous.

In turn, I invite my clients to open to the experience of being vulnerable in front of the camera; I invite them to share authentic emotion, and ultimately I ask them to do all that while directing them to hold their chin forward and just a bit down, and a bit to the left… eyes to me… bring that shoulder forward… now down a bit more (if you’ve worked with me, you know what I’m talking about!)  

Anyway, we ended up having a total blast, AND we were both pretty thrilled with the results!

We also got to play a bit while we were there... I mean, if you've got two grown children and can rock a sexy red dress with bling like this.... you need to celebrate that, right?!

But most importantly, she has been able to use her new personal branding photos to create a whole new, beautifully professional look for her business, allowing her to approach new clients with branding materials that match her own confidence and unique style.

All of the photos above we captured in my natural light photo studio just north of downtown. And at the end of our session we headed over for a few last location photos at one of my favorite places in Denver: Union Station. Love the light and vibe in this space to no end.

Love you always, Katie!! Let's do this again soon!

If you'd like to learn more about Katie's biz coaching (I mean, can't you just SEE how much fun it would be to work with her?), check out: Katie Drew Coaching!

Hair & Makeup: Ashleigh Franke | Locations: The Studio Denver + Union Station, Denver

Photography: Jennifer Koskinen | Merritt Portrait Studio

I’m a Denver based portrait photographer specializing in bringing out personality in my clients’ EYES, and creating images that are far more than just headshots. Your personal branding session will be custom styled around YOU, and will be an immersive, fun and empowering experience, to boot. I would love to chat with you about designing a couture professional branding session for you!