|“When I was young, I wanted to be a professional ballerina. I also happened to grow up in a ‘photographic’ family where taking pictures was never considered a chore. It was simply something you did. I always had a camera with me and I documented my life. In college I showed my dance instructor the pictures I’d taken, she suggested that I shoot the dance company rather than join in. Even then I never thought that I might end up a professional photographer.”|
Model: Olivia Bowman, Styling: Anton Cobb
Photograph by Matthew Galkin Sarah’s family is not only ’photographic’, but also keen on travel. Already as a baby she was often on the move together with her parents. Sarah was born in Tokyo, where the family lived for a time. Her father, who worked as an engineer for the UN, took her to many interesting countries, including India, Kuwait, Pakistan, and Australia. And the travel bug has not worn off with the years. “For me, travel has become a passion,” says Sarah. “Countries I happily return to include Israel, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, and Egypt.”
Sarah has a very keen interest in the Middle East and North Africa. She studied Middle Eastern history, religion, and culture at Vassar, from where she also graduated. Sarah took the time to learn Arabic, Hebrew, and French – languages that now provide great advantages when she is out traveling. But when did photography become a serious part of her life?
“Already while studying at Vassar, I realized that I wanted to develop my creative instincts and continue within the realm of photography. Because when it comes down to it, what use did I have for a degree in Middle Eastern history, religion, and politics if I didn’t want to be a politician or a teacher? In any case, my studies couldn’t help me learn anything about composition or lighting. Right after graduating from Vassar I began a three-year photography masters degree at The School of Visual Arts in New York. The teaching environment encouraged development and I was free to experiment and work as creatively as I saw fit. I also learned a great deal about other photographers.”
When Sarah realized that she could combine her sense for dance with her photographic abilities, she began studying the work of other dance photographers. Her favorite was and is the renowned American photographer George Platt Lynes. “Platt Lynes photographed dance, fashion, and nudes. He started out in the 1930s and kept on until the middle of the ‘50s. I’ve only seen a small amount of his fashion work as he burnt most of his negatives before he died. Entering his world of imagery is like stepping into a ‘film noir’. He managed to bring a strong sense of movement into all his images, and managed to make his subjects both compelling and mysterious,” says Sarah.
Model: Anton Cobb, Styling: Anton Cobb
Sarah Silver has now been photographing dance and movement for several years. She’s moved to New York where she has a large studio. Even if she’s still young, the road has been a long one. And her specialties are dance and fashion photography.
“The first time I started photographing dance something clicked. I can hardly describe the feeling of that perfect fraction of a second when the camera freezes the perfection of the human form and its movement. My timing was completely intuitive, but I knew that I needed to refine the overall process. Initially I wanted to shoot dance in the studio and act as choreographer. Then I moved on to shooting dance with fashion wear instead of leotards. Finally, I realized it was time to start using fashion models instead of dancers.”
Now that Sarah had set the stakes so much higher, could she guarantee to deliver the perfect shot? “I didn’t want to risk missing an important shot and not even knowing I had until the film came back from the lab. I didn’t want to waste energy worrying whether I’d succeeded with a shoot. The answer was to go digital. I bought a Sinar back for my Hasselblad. The digital technique gave me more room to develop my ideas. Now I can try a movement and seconds later it appears on-screen. Does it work or not? Does it make a good picture? If it doesn’t work, we rethink the movement and keep trying until it’s right.”
Model: Jimena Paz and Gino Grenek for Stephen Petronio Dance Company, Styling: Anton Cobb
Model: Danika @ IMG, Styling: Anton Cobb
Sarah Silver uses a Sinar 23 back with a Hasselblad 503CW body, equipped with an auto-winder and IR shutter release. This means she isn’t tied to the camera, but can move more freely in the studio.
“I use Hasselblad because the lenses provide such sharp images and the system works seamlessly with my digital back. Focus is one of the most important aspects of my photography. If the focus is off, what use is everything else? I shoot with short flash duration so that every movement is frozen. The advantage of digital is that you can avoid making slip-ups. But then there is no excuse for poor focus, bad exposures, or bad lighting. For my part, I feel you should have the proper tools for the entire process – from start to finish.”
Most of Sarah’s clients are from the commercial fashion industry. At the moment, she’s working with a couple of young designers known as Proenza Schouler and she includes them among her favorite clients. “Their fashion style is raw yet tailored and I’ve done many exciting projects for them, including the cover of this year’s Hasselblad calendar. Some of the images have also been published in magazines such as French Vogue, British Elle, The London Saturday Times, and V Magazine. Another client I’m happy to work with is The Stephen Petronino Dance Company. It was with them that I first combined dance and fashion (designers including Prada, Luis Vuitton, and Imitation of Christ). Stephen and his dancers helped me develop my style while I helped them find a way to market themselves as a dance company.”
How does Sarah Silver now view her immediate future? “My next challenge is to find more areas to apply what I do. I know there’s room for my work in both commercial and editorial contexts. Now I just want to be asked to do the impossible.”
Link to Sarah Silver´s website.