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Dance - A Moment and Eternity, 1987-2002

By: Liora Bing-Heidecker     From the book "Light | Space | Time"

The meeting point between the camera and the moving body
is located at the intersection between time and space. Photography seemingly freezes a moment in time; and yet the camera focuses on the present moment, which is constantly in flux. The same practice that serves to immobilize the body
and to capture it as a static object is thus capable of putting
it back in motion. 


Drora Spitz’s photographs of movement center on the tension between an enchantment with ephemerality and the desire to hold on to what is stable and fixed. This tension is unique neither to this photographer nor to the photographic medium; rather, it shapes the more general perception of the human body in dance and visual images. Is there truly any meaning to the oxymoron “to eternalize the moment”? What about movement so swift that the moving object seems to be frozen (like the insect whose constantly vibrating wings immobilize him in midair), or a state of immobility that seems full of arrested movement? 

These paradoxes are examined over and over again by Spitz as she wanders about, capturing both what is coming into being and what already is. In the context of this dialogue between the camera and the photographed movement, the body may resemble a landscape, the morphology of a still life, an outline similar to that created by a seismograph; at times it is an abstract patch of color, the blurred traces of a dancer at once present and absent. Yet what, or who, is in motion? Is it the camera, the photographed object or the viewer? Drora Spitz’s photographs do not supply us with simple answers. At the same time, the array of dance images in her works attests to her honest and serious attempt to examine this question by all the means available to her.


It is obvious that Spitz is not interested in chance movement. Like an alchemist, she attempts to distill a given moment and to present viewers with a cohesive, concise, highly stylized image. She strives to reach the still core in the midst of the action. One of her exhibitions, titled “The Eye of the Storm” (Genia Schreiber University Gallery, Tel Aviv, 2007), featured a series of photographs of the Butoh dancer Maya Dunsky, which are reminiscent of Paul Valery’s description of the dancer as a motionless presence at the center of dance.   "Butoh,“ which means  "darkness“ in Japanese, is a form of modern dance created in Japan in the late 1950s; concerned with the crisis of a body vacillating between stability and collapse, it  unfolds on the threshold between life and death.


Butoh[1] involves a process of metamorphosis that stems from the dancer’s ability to become estranged from his own humanity, and to conjure up a foreign image out of the depths of his being. Above all, then, Butoh has to do with the emptying of the gaze.
It is precisely this emphasis on a seemingly lifeless void that gives rise to a new and subversive understanding of the body
as a site of becoming.

In many of her photographs of Butoh dancers, Spitz rises to this challenge: she allows her own gaze to empty itself out, so that the body alone fills the entire frame. She focuses on creating images of the body that are entirely decontextualized, and which are not manipulated in any way. Whether these are black-and-white or color photographs, they are characterized by a rich range of tones, and the viewer cannot help but feel deeply moved by their powerful fusion of beauty and pain.
Nevertheless, Spitz’s photographs go beyond the task of passive documentation. Like a choreographer, she too participates in the dance: she doubles solitary objects, copies them and uses different techniques to group these copies together, so that their different beats play off each other as they come together to form a single rhythm. She fuses different components into a single visual cluster, and then blurs or disassembles it back into its individual parts. She loves the play between the sculptural volume and the linear contours of movement. At times she uses light to create a play of reflections between different types
of movement – as is the case in her images of Tami Ben-Ami, who is photographed standing on a floor lit by tantalizing
flashes of light.

Spitz is interested in capturing movement even where it exists only as potential. So, for instance, she attempts to discern it in the bodies of three men and a young girl who stand motionless, calmly focused as they pose in the basic Tai Chi stance. In another series of images, the moving figure is surrounded by strokes of color, so that the photograph resembles a watercolor of a man painting his movement through space with his own limbs. At times, Spitz uses photomontage to camouflage the moving figure behind a thin veil, so that the movement appears both internal and a-temporal. Various visual layers composed
of mysterious and primeval elements come together, forming
an enigmatic affinity between the human figure and a pattern reminiscent of cobwebs, peeling paint, or perhaps a tangle
of branches. The dreamlike image gives rise to an organic process of becoming. 

In some instances, the prolonged opening of the aperture causes the figure to vanish entirely, and to be replaced by the traces of movement – by a dynamic, abstract continuum. In this manner, Spitz substitutes duration for the momentary point of intersection between time and space; as if the moving body were nothing but a long, wavelike delay – an aspect of the gaze itself.


[1] Paul Valery, "Dance and the Soul," in Collected works of Paul Valery, 1956–1975, edited by Jackson Mathews, translated by William McCausland Stewart, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971.

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