The irony is not lost on me—as a photo-editor who has devoted many years to a medium known for stilling, or capturing, time, decisive or otherwise—that I should be equally consumed by another medium, one that defies any notion of “capture,” that I am seduced by dance’s very impermanence, especially in the case of Merce Cunningham. Cunningham’s choreography never leaves even a storyline to hang onto in its wake, but rather evinces a kind of isness, as if each dance has an ineffable essence that might somehow be touched, experienced, and that remains vital and resonant long after the curtain falls, so that endings are somehow intangible.
Cunningham’s sensibility was as much about time as about space—or, better, it was about the coexistence of the two and, unlike what transpires in much photography, time is liberated from illustration in a Cunningham dance. Things don’t have to happen in any narrative sense. Time is more about duration—which is in part why John Cage, and the other composers with whom Cunningham collaborated, had such freedom. In photography, conversely, the precise moment at which a picture is created may make all the difference—from evidentiary images to sports coverage to street shots to dance photography.
Which gets me thinking about the ephemeral—an idea that rarely pertains to the photographic object. (more…)