Nijinsky and the Ecstasy of the Divine

I am thrilled this work will be exhibited at the Arts Centre Melbourne Sep 3-18, 2016.  Click here for details.  This exhibition coincides with the Australian Ballet's performance of Nijinsky: a Ballet by John Neumeier.  The great thing about this is timing that the dancer in my series, Aleix Martinez, is currently a soloist in John Neumeier's Hamburg Ballet and so, experienced in dancing this Nijinsky-inspired ballet choreographed by the man who has had a lifelong obsession with Nijinsky, there is a deep resonance with the essence of both Neumeier's work and Nijinsky's legacy.  If you would like to purchase a limited edition silver gelatin photograph, please contact Claire or Andy at MARS Gallery.


Toward the Light

Toward the Light

It began in a second hand bookstore. I found myself picking up books about Nijinsky and curiosity and fascination slowly kindled.

In 2012 the Hamburg Ballet visited Brisbane in Australia and performed John Neumeier's Nijinsky-inspired ballet. I attended that performance. One dancer had something of the essence she was seeking, however I was unable to make contact with him.

A few months later, while in Europe, I was given the opportunity to attend a dress rehearsal of a Nijinsky gala performance in Hamburg and take some photographs. However, far from the stage, this was certainly not my preferred way to make photographs (I like to get close), the mystery dancer was not featured and the session was not fruitful.

On leaving the ballet, pondering the question of best next steps, I entered the train station. At this point synchronicity stepped in. The dancer from the Brisbane performance walked onto the otherwise empty platform. After a brief exchange, the next day he wrote to me saying that he was really interested in this project, because it was not a literal representation of Nijinsky, but rather, an exploration of his soul.

And so, this dancer, Aleix Martinez, and I were brought together to make this work.

This work from my series ‘Nijinsky and the Ecstasy of the Divine’ is inspired by Vaslav Nijinsky (1889-1950), the genius Russian dancer/choreographer. It imagines Nijinsky’s inner and outer world and seeks a modern expression of the creative essence, which inhabited him.

Nijinsky, the most significant male ballet dancer of the 20th Century. A dance genius, he was the first male international “star” of the ballet. His gift as a dancer captivated audiences from the moment he began dancing as a young child.

In addition to extraordinary technique, he was the first dancer to use his body to inhabit a character to such an extent that he was utterly believable, whether it be a delicate rose, an African slave, a half- human faun, a Turkish slave, a puppet or a bluebird. Beyond his own dancing, Nijinsky’s choreography was so radically innovative it made a profound impact across Europe and America paving the way for modern ballet.

He truly took dance to an entirely new level. Becoming the lover of Diaghilev and working with other great artists such as Stravinsky, opened many doors artistically and added to the mystique of the man. At the height of his power as a dancer and choreographer, at just 29 yrs, he succumbed to mental illness and spent the remaining 30 years of his life in and out of asylums. His writings, filled with references to transcendence and God, are fascinating and add further mystery to the man.

The genius and magic of Nijinsky continues to inspire artists. No film footage exists so the only record of his mastery is through photographs and eyewitness accounts. Stories of the magic of his performances abound.

Arts Centre Melbourne

Arts Centre Melbourne

Lumen Naturae - my new identity

Last year was a year of metamorphosis for me and it occurred to me that in moving forward I was ready to give my photography a business name that reflected me more fully.

As often happens to me, ideas come suddenly from the ethers and with utter clarity I knew I wanted to name my business whatever the words in Latin were for "the light within darkness".

A quick google search found it, "lumen naturae".  As I read more about it, the perfection of "lumen naturae" in representing what I do and how I do it was clear.  Carl Jung wrote about it as a kind of "spiritual alchemy".  An excellent article was written by Paul Levy about this idea and about Jung's writings - really I can't say it better.  Read Paul Levy's article here. 

The alchemical aspect really resonates with me.  It is what inspires me, somehow that ability to go deep inside and bring something to the surface, something intangible yet profoundly true.  And as a film photographer, where I work in the darkroom and experience the magic of a print appearing out of seeming nothingness, the direct alchemical aspect feels ever present.

My true desire is that something I do in the photographs I make and the people I engage with, will make a difference, that it matters, it touches something deep and true and opens me and us up to the deeper connection of all that is.

My first Portrait - 1979

Here is the first portrait I ever made - one I took of my father in about 1979…

©Kate Baker - Stan in garage, 1979

©Kate Baker - Stan in garage, 1979

I remember clearly making the photograph, the moment I saw the image ready to be immortalised. 

it was also I think the first print I ever made.  My brother had bought a tiny Durst enlarger from the local Op Shop and we set up a makeshift “darkroom” under our house - we had to climb up into an area with a bare dirt floor and just 4 feet to the roof, but nonetheless this this was a place of mystery and magic. 

I still remember my first smell of unprocessed photographic paper, the little red light, the way the blank paper went into the chemicals and then….. out of nothing emerged this image!!!  It was an extraordinary moment and even today I still love that moment, the alchemy of development.  Even now after making many many prints, the memory of the magic of that first moment is still very present. 

Making this portrait is a vivid memory.  I’d only ever seen portraits of people smiling for the camera - family snaps.  This day, with film I knew would be developed in just a few minutes, I took the camera into the garage, saw my father on the floor surrounded by car parts and immediately I saw this image in its own right.  I didn’t think, I didn’t ask him to get ready or smile for the camera, I just saw the photograph and made it.  Somehow that makes it more special to me.  Remembering these two significant moments, both in the camera and in the darkroom, such rich first experiences feels like a great blessing!

Thoughts on Printing

A while ago a groups of photographers met and at one stage we began talking about printing.  Some of us have been exploring different print mediums over the past few years, e.g. salt printing,  albumen printing, ziatype, platinum and palladium, photogravure, even mezzotint.  As well as silver gelatin of course, which happens to be the medium I use (so far anyway).  Each of these mediums brings a different sense to a photograph.  

At one point they spoke about my photographs and asked how I approach the technique of printing.  So how do I approach it?

As photographers we have a print medium to consider and within that we also have a print technique.  By this I mean, how does one approach making a fine art print?  Do you look for optimal blacks and whites?  Do you look for realism?  Do you look for surrealism?  Or something else…  There are so many choices open to us, so many ways our photographs can be presented.

I realise that my intent in a photograph is to bring out the emotional tone I want in a photograph.  Specifically, it guides me throughout the hours I spend with a negative in the darkroom.  I was fortunate to learn quality techniques in print making from Gordon Undy, who himself learnt directly from master photographers such as George Tice and Paul Caponigro.  This training was invaluable in giving me the pure skills I needed to make a high quality print.  Sometime later, photographer Bob Kerseygave me some advice that resonated strongly with me and has really guided me since that time.  

As I was developing my Oasis series for exhibition in 2008, Bob spent a day or 2 with me in my darkroom and as I was printing the portrait of Ella, he articulated something that has been at the forefront of my mind when I print ever since.  He said “Kate, what are you actually trying to ‘say’ in this photograph… what is the most important thing you trying to express?”  And it hit me, then and there, that it’s not only about beautiful tonalities for me, I want to be clear in how this photograph communicates at an emotion level!  For instance, this particular photograph shows a young woman who has come through some significant life difficulties, now re-emerging into the world with new choices, shown in a portrait with her skateboard.   I realised that to really convey ‘Ella’, this photograph needed to be all about the skateboard and her identification with it.  It wasn’t about printing Ella’s face to perfection (in fact I ended up subduing her face a little)… instead it was all about the skateboard and Ella’s relationship with that.  So I started focusing on the skateboard and working on from there.  Of course I could have made a good print of this photograph without this focus and perhaps the difference is too subtle for many to see, but I believe that sometimes that 2% variable can communicate at a more subconscious level, and this can perhaps help open a door to a more emotional level of engagement with a photograph.  



My thought process as I consider what is important in a photograph has been different since that day and that realisation continues to guide me. It has opened up options and led me to be more courageous in my choices.   For instance, I wanted a fairly timeless, ethereal, universal sense to my La Poesia della Danza series… and in the paper and developer choices I made along with those infinitesimally small decisions we make in the darkroom have yielded a result has resulted in many comments that suggest I may be on the right track, at least for me!