I don’t know about you, but whenever I’m at home doing the dishes, I just feel so clumsy and uncoordinated. Surely a dancer would make these household chores look beautiful and effortless! If you’re like me and wonder how a ballet dancer might tackle the ironing or vacuuming, then look no further.
Photographer Eric Raeber has spent the best part of three years photographing dancers doing mundane tasks like washing the dishes or mowing the er living room in an amusing new photo book series called “Dancers at Home“. DIYP caught up with Eric to find out more about the project.
Raeber is clearly fascinated by dance, and much of his portfolio is of dancers, both on and off the stage. It’s a subject that he has been shooting for over ten years. “I have always been more of a conceptual photographer,” Eric says, “I like to control everything that goes into my frame. Dancers control every muscle in their body with such grace, that it was a perfect match for my style of photography.”
The inspiration for “Dancers at Home” came when Eric watched dancers perform, and he couldn’t help but wonder how much grace they could infuse into everyday activities.
In 2019 Eric started a series of images in his living room. “I asked dancers to iron shirts, vacuum the floor or clean dishes,”Eric explains. “As I ran out of ideas for house chores, I had to improvise and develop themes that were less ordinary. I asked them to shuffle cards, play soccer, or mow the carpet!”
For each shoot, Eric generally had 4 or 5 concepts along with the required props. “I sketch the possible poses and discuss clothing options with the dancer beforehand,”says Eric. “During the shoot, we try everything out and review the images on the monitor. From there we iterate with the pose, the angle and the prop until we have everything right.”
Eric explains that senior students and professional dancers can repeat movements or leaps with incredible accuracy. With years of practice, catching that right moment in-camera has become second nature to him, which is why using single shot mode leads to more reliable results.
So Eric set about contacting dancers and created a studio in his living room. Armed with his Sony A7R4 and a pair of Einstein E640 strobes, he placed the dancer in front of a white paper backdrop. He later swapped out the backgrounds in Photoshop for various textures. A strip box in the doorway from the kitchen created a rim light and Eric additionally used a beauty dish camera right.
Anybody who has shot in small spaces knows the issues and constraints that can arise. The hardest thing for Eric was controlling light spill. “I had to flag the rim light with a piece of black fabric to prevent spill on the backdrop and I added a piece of black cardboard on top of the beauty dish to minimize scattering on the ceiling. This allowed me to finely control the shadow behind the dancer,” he says.
The camera angle, exposure, and lighting setup remained mostly unchanged across the entire series. This allowed Eric to give his full attention to the dancer as they went through different ideas and poses for each concept.
Here is a short video showing the behind the scenes setup:
Of course, shooting such a large project consistently is not without its difficulties. Eric says that possibly the most difficult part was actually recruiting the dancers. “During the season, dancers will typically rehearse or perform six days a week,” says Eric. “During their off day they need their body to recover and will not necessarily want to perform again in front of my camera,” he adds.
Coupled with the fact that not all classically trained ballet dancers feel comfortable improvising, and it was quite a lot to ask of the dancers in the end.
Fortunately though, Eric was able to find plenty of talent who were able to help realise his ideas. The book is testament to the effort put in by both photographer and dancers.
“The most rewarding part is always to see or hear about the reaction from the dancers when they see the resulting photographs, and have them all assembled in a book,” Eric says.
His newest project also involves dancers, this time on location. Eric creates lines with the dancers that completments the architecture. He also plans to incorporate imaginary places using AI for dancers to perform in.