Moving Photography: Local Photographer Exposes the Elegance and Emotion of Dance
BY JULIA WATKINS
Artistry can be portrayed in a plethora of ways and today, there seems to be more effort than ever to make just about everything an “aesthetic.” From dancing on TikTok to the way one organizes their pantry, to decorating a homemade cake, everyone has some artistic flair in their daily lives. Some artists, however, have been perfecting their technique since they were preschoolers. Those artists are often dancers.
Parents sign their children up for dance at an early age for a number of reasons. This art form can help people of all ages build confidence, improve muscle strength, learn discipline, and understand the connection between the mind and body.
Another art form, photography, captures the beauty and emotion of this type of storytelling.
When Andrew Bowen decided to switch careers from engineering to photography in 2010, he didn’t know how successful he would be or the impact he would have on the dance community and beyond. After a family move to Greensboro to send his daughter to the American Hebrew Academy, the former international Jewish boarding school, Bowen found himself photographing families, high school seniors and some bar mitzvahs on the weekends. “The Jewish community dances without shame at bar mitzvahs,” he laughed.
Bowen remembers feeling like he had a lot to learn after shooting his first semi-professional dancer around 2015. “When I first began photographing dancers, there were additional aspects of right and wrong,” Bowen explained. Balancing light and darkness is already challenging for photographers, but adding in basic ballet positions and correct body movements is another level.
It wasn’t until 2018 when Bowen approached the Greensboro Ballet for some pro-bono work to hone his skills. The lighting aspect was easy for him to come by but he knew he’d have to do some extra work to properly serve this population. He embraced the virtual world during the Covid-19 pandemic by joining a two-year dance photography mentorship program out of New York City, signing up for virtual dance classes with a small studio in England, receiving a Master’s in Photography through the Professional Photographers of America and committing to the study of dance kinesiology, all to improve his craft.
In the ballet world, dancers are constantly in front of mirrors, being coached on perfecting each position and moving their bodies with precise goals in mind. In Bowen’s photography studio, comfortability is of the utmost importance. The dancer’s vision on everything, from what they want to wear to all of the moves they want to showcase, is paramount. “Dancers are often subjugating themselves to other people’s visions. This space is a space for them to do something they’ve always wanted for themselves,” Bowen explained as he walked through the rooms he carefully curated with flexible backdrops and professional lighting equipment.
Equipped with snacks, hair bands and bottles of water, the environment that Andrew has created in his studio connected to “Dance is a rare art form where his home, feels safe, welcoming, the person is the and extremely professional.
“You realize, especially when canvas, the paint, you’re working with women or girls, or males for that matter, and the brush.” that you have an awesome responsibility to not feed into what society puts on them. If I’m going to work with dancers, I need to step up my game so much more than really good lighting.”
Each session, Bowen creates a collaborative experience while in his studio, encouraging dancers to speak up, take the lead, and be assertive throughout their time together. He treats his clients as peers and works alongside them to achieve a look that shows the dancer at their very best.
“More than anything, you listen to them. Dance is a rare art form where the person is the canvas, the paint, and the brush,” he noted.
Bowen is also known for giving his time and talent to the local community. In addition to this magazine, he volunteers his photography skills to a multitude of nonprofit organizations such as Marva’s Outreach Ministries (M-O-M) which helps survivors of domestic violence. Each year, M-O-M calls on Bowen to shoot their annual calendar at his studio.
“I want to showcase these women for more than their abuse. You have authors, doctors, social workers and entrepreneurs in the room. You get a chance to talk to them and hear their story, not as a victim, but as a human being and how they’ve overcome so much. Of course, I want to help do something,” he says humbly.
In addition to humble, patient would be the best word to describe Bowen in regards to his art. He wants to capture the entire essence of a dancer and asks for their feedback throughout the entire photography session. Oftentimes, one session takes an entire afternoon. Bowen is constantly showing his camera to his clients as they work together to get the perfect shot.
“Dance is an art form that transcends language. It enables the whole person to express the emotion or feeling or message they are trying to convey. Dance has been a communication form, and a way of passing history that speaks to us at a fundamental level. There’s a second aspect of dance: amazing athleticism. We’re both in awe of the artistry and the emotion but at the same time, in awe of the physical capability.”
The Greensboro community is not the only place where Bowen’s talent is widely known. In the two out of three years he has submitted dance photography, Bowen has been a bronze photographer with the IPC (International Photographic Competition). In 2019 and 2021, all four of his submitted photos were designated merit images at the highest quality of photography and will be on display at the Imaging USA Convention this year.
Bowen belongs in the dance world, not only because of his talent, but because he is an advocate for women, dancers, and artists. The average person may never know how passionate Bowen is about his photography but, after spending an afternoon with him, each dancer he works with will be stronger, in more than one way.