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Why I’m no longer shooting ballet

In the beginning of my photo journey I would have given anything to shoot ballet. Everyone talked about it being the ‘pinnacle’ of the dance world. Perfect bodies, perfect form, perfect movement; PERFECT EVERYTHING.

After professionally shooting performance and publicity for the past 12 years as a full time, no spouse with health benefits 1099er I’m proud of what I’ve created. I have enjoyed the friendships I’ve forged with dancers of all genres, ballet, contemporary, hip hop, ballroom among many others. But what originally attracted me to ballet performance shooting has completely turned me off from creating ballet imagery. The pursuit and myopic focus on PERFECTION.

I recently asked two ballerinas who I respect, one a former pro and one current pro how many performance images they like of themselves when they view them. My guess was less then 1%. In both cases their responses were “Wow that’s A GENEROUS assumption Mark, but it’s much less than 1%!” One stated “I was happy with my life until I began dancing ballet.” Another stated that “The constant pursuit of perfections took all of the joy of dance out of it for me.”

Both stated that years later they looked at some of their images and felt they looked good. But we’re talking DECADES later, not a week, month, year or two. Like most things that come with time, appreciating what you have or in these cases had become much clearer.

My metaphor for what has driven me to put ballet shooting in a box on my shelf is this. Imagine working all day to prepare a special meal for someone. Sourcing the best ingredients, painstakingly preparing the flavors and menu using culinary skills you’ve developed over decades. Working hours to make sure the textures and flavors are elements that will explode with flavor in the most subtle and delicious way. Then only to hear from the diners that their favorite part of the meal “Were the plates and silverware.”

A few years ago someone started this thing that stated, “If what you own does not bring you joy, get rid of it from your home.” For me art is not about perfection, but about emotion. So now let someone else pursue ballet performance imagery. I’ll continue to enjoy the art of ballet as an audience member, but not as a photographer. Watching the performance gives me joy. And only doing what I know is appreciated does the same.