Combining his passions for dance and photography, Ithaca-based photographer Kurt Lichtmann has dedicated his work to capturing the best moments of people on their feet. Staff Writer Evan Johnson spoke with Lichtmann about his exhibition “Celebration of Dance: Ballroom, Swing and Salsa,” on display until early May at the Ithaca Bakery in the Triphammer Mall, and how he manages to take pictures of himself dancing.
Evan Johnson: How long have you been a professional photographer?
Kurt Lichtmann: I’ve been taking pictures for a while. Just recently I got into much greater detail in terms of trying to get what I was trying to get. I wasn’t satisfied with the focus, with the lighting or with the backdrop. I had something in my mind, and I was tired of not being able to get it, so that’s what took me to step B. I needed specific equipment, and so I upgraded the equipment and I hired a tutor.
EJ: Do you prefer to use digital or film?
KL: I was trained with film, and I’ve taken darkroom courses at Cornell, so I know how to do all that, but I’m of the sort of modern school, saying, “Forget that stuff. We’re going to go to digital. It’s easier, and it’s best for us.”
EJ: What do you like about photographing partner dancing?
KL: First of all, I’m a dancer, and I teach eight or nine dance classes a week at Cornell and at Ithaca College, so that’s how I got into dance photography. One of my minor hobbies is to scour the Web for dance photos. I’d go deep into Google image search. There are some amazing pictures of what people are doing today as well as things from the ’30s and ’40s. The best way to educate yourself is to see what’s been done before.
EJ: What do you look for in a good action shot? What normally stands out to you while you are on the dance floor?
KL: For a dance picture you’ve got to have the people. And the people have to be in some sort of aesthetic, expressive moment in dance. I don’t say poses because poses can appear candid. Sometimes it’s good to just shoot and once you find something that looks good you hone in on it and analyze every part of it. You also have to have fairly decent costuming. Great costuming is even better. Fairly attractive people can be quite helpful, as well. And then you need good lighting for the next level of photographing ability. You also need a background that makes the figures dominate the picture. They shouldn’t be fighting for attention in the picture.
EJ: You mentioned that you had a tutor in photography. What was that like?
KL: I’ve taken photography courses, but there was a specific set of information that I wanted. And so rather than take an entire course, I asked a couple of professionals to show me the specific equipment that would give the results I wanted.
EJ: What is your current technique for making sure you get the results you want?
KL: The way I’ve been doing it lately and which I’m quite fond of is duos. The way I’ve got it set up is with a voice-operated camera shutter so me and a partner will take shots and go look at them. Of course the girls analyze every intimate detail of themselves, so we go back and shoot some more having made those adjustments. That’s what’s great about digital — you shoot and you look at it. And eventually after 200 shots you get some really good stuff. The voice-operated shutter is really good at capturing moments — and we’re dancers; we know where we want to be caught.
EJ: Are the pictures on display your favorites or what you’ve been working on recently?
KL: I’ve got [pictures] that I’m extremely fond of. One thing about art is that you tend to get excited about the stuff you’re doing now, but after a couple weeks, months or years, you change your mind. That’s part of the creative process. However, the ones that are on display I’m very thrilled with, and I think they’re among my best.