Almost all of Roy Campbell-Moore’s photographs can be categorised as avant-garde. Sweaty dancers populate the images, in movement against a low-light background, resting after a strenuous dance practice or during the frenzy before the performances. Most are gritty and not what you would call ‘picture perfect.’ But that’s his aim — to showcase the alternative world of dance, not just the beautiful side, and illuminate the relationship the dancers have with the art form. He says, “I try to photograph from the inside of the art form and that’s why not all photographs are necessarily beautiful.”
Giving this idea a further boost, Roy embarked on a project The Beauty And The Grit over a year ago, identifying dance companies across Wales and India, along the way aiming to cultivate a more personal examination of the art form among photographers and dancers. After completing a residency at the India Habitat Centre in Delhi and working with dance company, The Danceworx there, he is now in Bangalore, for his show that will run till Friday at Vismaya Art Gallery, Rangoli Metro Art Center.
He has also completed a four-day workshop with the Stem Dance Kampni, engaging with 15 different photographers. “We created a new short piece of dance for the company. The photographers had to capture everything part of the making process, from day one to the final performance. After that we had a showing of the different works at the studio. To me, the photographs came across as very passionate, very aggressive. It was fantastic. Even the dance performance was very unusual for the dancers because they had to learn a new way of western dance. But they were very enthusiastic,” he says.
Roy’s tryst with Bangalore started when he collaborated with Madhu Nataraj of Stem Dance Kampni about five years ago and since then he has been travelling back and forth teaching residencies and conducting workshops. He recalls, “One particular experience is very close to my heart. Six months ago, we created a series of 18 monumental installations, about 5 foot 1 inch in size showing how dancers engage with different spaces, be it dance studios, stray buildings, office buildings, even a Banana field. These were very unusual settings, and it was incredible. I don’t think I’ve ever done something like that in my life before.”
Roy has been photographing dance as a specialist for about 15 years after he stopped dancing. In fact, he was a ballet dancer for over 40 years and even founded the National Dance Company to promote arts back in Wales. But when he realised his love for photography, he stepped down from the role of an artistic director and even gave up dancing. He explains, “I happened to get into photography out of necessity. Back then, good photographers used to charge exorbitant fees. It was also expensive because we had to get them all the way down from London. So I thought I will try to do it myself, see how I can get on. After all, I knew the dancers better and I had a better understanding of the subject. So I bought the best camera I could get my hands on and started work. I studied hard for over three years and taught myself using tutorials. And then, it paid off.” And what does he consider the most rewarding aspect? He says it is the privilege of working with talented dancers and learning about them as people as well as subjects for his photography. But the main driving force is that it enables him to delve deeper into the art form.
First published in The New Indian Express on September 25, 2014