Looking at the series of photos Ballet in the cinema by photographer Lisa Cho, it’s natural to be delighted by its charming transmission of elegance, persistence and depth. The self-taught photographer – who began her career in her thirties – aims to translate her love of cinema and “beauty” through the lens of her prized Yashica 635.
This camera has a special meaning for her since she fell in love with it after seeing the film Finding Vivian Maier.
“Although I have a few other film cameras, this is by far my favorite. To date, [the Yashica] is 52 and still creates great photos. The vast majority of my film work is created using this camera and shot on Kodak Portra 800,” Cho says, speaking to PetaPixel.
The choice of film helps Cho in his quest to capture indoor and night shots when the light is low. While she admits it’s a bit pricey, it’s an investment well spent considering the results.
The camera also proved to be a great asset when she embarked on her latest project. Ballet in the cinema, Cho’s passionate vision to capture the inner workings of a ballet company in Honolulu, Hawaii. The project, which began as a way to showcase and celebrate the unique expression of ballet on the island, has also shifted to a more poignant and intimate look at ballet itself and the arts for a global pandemic.
Cho reveals the three-year history of the classic Honolulu ballet company starting with pre-pandemic shots, at its center, through a finale that depicts a joyful return to the stage.
She also shares that she didn’t take many photos during each session.
“I took 36 photos for most of the chapters of Ballet in the cinema. When you take so few photos, you really think about each photo,” she says.
“You think about the subject, the background, the emotions of a scene, and the story you’re telling. Shooting a movie slows you down in this fast-paced world of instant gratification that we live in and makes you a better photographer.
With her dancers ranging in age from 3 to 16, it was a first for Cho to work with these young people. But most of the challenges came from the nature of the pandemic and what that has had to affect capturing intimacy and emotions.
“The hardest part of the pandemic as it relates to Ballet in the cinema was the masks. Art is an emotion and a subject’s face communicates so much about how they feel,” she says.
“Although social distancing is a phrase synonymous with COVID, because we were in unconventional venues, not a traditional elevated stage with wings on each side, I was able to position myself much closer to the dancers. I like to be close. This is where I find the intimacy and the emotions of the story.
From the beginning of the series, Cho sought to illustrate behind the scenes or rather the story behind the story. It was a main point of interest for her; capturing the fine details that go into creating a final performance.
“There is a similar thread that is woven into my process. Pre-production and post-production are as important as when the image is taken, sometimes more important. The dancer’s preparation before the performance is what will shine when the curtain goes up. she says.
The film and Cho’s technique identifies several choice moments in a way that she believes only film can do.
“Film photography is about creativity, intrinsic beauty, depth and all the intangibles that words can’t necessarily describe. It’s about slowing down, thinking about a scene without rattling off 30 photos because I have space on my memory card, it’s about the experience and doing something tangible in the intangible world. Everyone sees the world through their own lens, film photography allows me to tell the story as I experienced it.
As an observer outside the series, it is also striking to identify the captured moments of perseverance displayed by each of the young dancers and to notice a kind of mirror and reflection of the type of perseverance that many performers needed at most. strong from the COVID- 19 pandemic. This is just one of the many ways the series highlights the effectiveness of Cho’s visual storytelling abilities.
Cho said the feedback on the show has been wonderful.
“And I’ve been so lucky to have the support of my photography mentors, Floyd, Olivier and Malcolm, who continue to guide me.”
Cho hopes that Ballet in the cinemashows a universally relatable story of resilience and innovation.
“Everyone in the world has been affected by the pandemic. We all had to jump, twirl and pirouette in the new world. I hope this series inspires others to keep creating and being grateful for the blessings we have in our lives. The light always shines through the darkness.
Ballet on Film is on display at Treehouse in Honolulu until August 4. For an in-depth look at the project, visit Cho’s website, Instagram, or watch his photo chat with Treehouse on YouTube.
Picture credits: Lisa Cho