Ken Browar & Deborah Ory

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New York City Dance Project Interview: Unique Graceful Movements of Dancers Frozen in Time

May 21, 2018 - Jessica Stewart for My Modern Met

Created by Brooklyn-based photographers Ken Browar and Deborah Ory, the NYC Dance Project has been capturing the beauty of dancers since 2015. Merging their backgrounds in fashion and editorial photography, the duo has amassed an impressive portfolio of dance portraits. And by working with the world’s top dancers at institutions like the American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, and Alvin Alley American Dance Theatre, NYC Dance Project is immortalizing contemporary dancers.

When My Modern Met first interviewed Browar and Ory in 2015, NYC Dance Project was still in its early stages. Since then, they’ve published an award-winning book, The Art of Movement, and have seen their photographs used in a campaign for the American Ballet Theatre. Given all the new developments, we were curious to catch up with NYC Dance Project and discuss how this idea, initially inspired by their ballet-loving daughter, has grown over time.

We last chatted in 2015. How has NYC Dance Project grown since that time?

We published our first book The Art of Movement in October of 2016. We’re of course thrilled that today almost two years later it’s still a bestseller on Amazon, and that it was awarded an International Photography Award for Best Book.

We’ve shown our work in several galleries, including the Holden Luntz Gallery (Palm Beach), the Furman Gallery (Lincoln Center, NYC), and soon we will be working with the Susan Lanoue Gallery (Boston). We’ve, in the meantime, also started working on our second book, which will be published by Rizzoli and has a publication date of 2019.

How was the experience of putting together The Art of Movement?

Making an art book was an amazing experience for us. We’ve been taking photographs all of our lives, but seeing them in a collection and a theme together in large, high-quality book format was really rewarding. It was more work than either of us had expected, but the results were definitely worth it. And, of course, we look forward to seeing our finished second book, even though we know it’s a long road and production can sometimes be exhausting!

What were the original goals of NYC Dance Project and how—if at all—have they evolved over time?

Our original goal was to promote dance and the dancers—and of course to compile a collection of photographs that represented the art as it is today. We’re very happy that NYC Dance Project has become a well-known showcase in the dance world.

After photographing so many dancers, what do you think is the biggest lesson you’ve learned as photographers?

We’ve learned to not plan out the photographs too much in advance, and to allow for things to evolve on set. The magic happens when we all—dancers and photographers—are open to making images that feel right, and don’t have preconceived ideas of what they will necessarily look like. So playing by the ear, as it were, or going with the gut, if you like, is crucial to putting everyone at ease, which in turn makes for the most beautiful photos. We also now try to go for capturing a few special images instead of many different photographs in the same session.

What story do you try to tell through the photographs? Or does it change according to which dancer you’re working with?

There is not a specific story we are trying to tell, but we find that all the dancers have their own stories and their own way of moving. They each express themselves differently, and so we try to first understand, and then capture, what is unique about them. The dancers ultimately are the ones telling their stories through our lens.

NYC Dance Project mainly focuses on ballet and contemporary dance. Has there ever been an itch to branch out into photographing dancers in other genres?

Of course! We have always wanted to photograph dancers in other disciplines and have already been making plans to do so. We had an opportunity to work with a street dancer, Lil Buck this year at the Gala De Danza in Mexico. We have also been talking with Michelle Dorrance, and hope to collaborate with her as well as with other tap dancers. And there is a ballroom dance couple that we will soon work with. We really love the idea of expanding our repertoire beyond ballet and modern dance.

What do you think it is about dancers that captures the public’s imagination?

I think people are impressed when they see dance, whether live, on film, or even in images, because they are impressed with the dancers’ physicality and control as well as their ability to express emotion through their bodies and their movement. We hope that our photographs illustrate that movement, despite being two-dimensional and still.

Do you have any standout images from the project that hold special meaning to you? 

We did a campaign for American Ballet Theatre and there were not enough costumes on the set. I had a beautiful wedding dress in a light blue color that had been made for me. Misty Copeland ended up wearing the dress, and the image became a huge banner over the Metropolitan Opera house. It looked amazing, and of course was very special for me, personally.

Where does NYC Dance Project go from here?

After we finish this next book, we hope to do more dance films, so look for more in motion photography. We also would like to expand our gallery projects, so hopefully, we can have our photographs in galleries in multiple cities in the U.S., but also internationally.

NYC Dance Project: Website | Facebook | Instagram 

My Modern Met granted permission to use photos by NYC Dance Project.


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