"I think of my photographs as sculpture" says Sally Cohn. And so they are-- two-dimensional impressions on paper that conjure not just a third dimension but a fourth as well. Her subjects spring out of their frames, compelling the viewer with their fully realized humanity. And as artistic compositions they are dazzling, exquisite. Each line of each body--the bones and flexing muscles that occasion it, the flesh that gives it form-- is an object in itself, often echoed, varied, and otherwise enriched by shadow and background.
Yet she might just as well have said her photographs were poems, for they tell us stories without words, speak to a part of us deeper than most words can reach. Capturing dancers in mid-trajectory, Sally has in each picture captured for us a microsecond of motion. Though we may not know the specifics, we are resoundingly certain that these figures-- leaping, gesturing, embracing, whirling-- come from somewhere, and are going somewhere. In deed, we could invent our own stories to accompany each one, stories that not only told of personal sorrows and joys and triumphs and chagrins, but also dipped into a rich archetypal world. This one is a dryad, that one a high priestess-- yet all are glisteningly, complexly human. They are portraits inbued with love, a bare-bones love, without a trace of sentimentality, that illuminates the deepest truths about its subjects, and invites us to share them. These photographs celebrate essential beauty, and in the process they show us that such beauty, and the mythic significance that trails it like a streaming cape, arise from the grace of being immediately present in our moment-to-moment truth.
- Anne T. Zaroff
“Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you join the dance?
Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, won’t you join the dance?”
(Alice in Wonderland)
A photograph is a moment captured, defiance of time, a tongue poking out at mortality. A photograph within dance is a movement captured, defiance of gravity, the breath held as if life and air were one.
Dance is the art of the body’s rhythm shaped in space, three dimensions entwined. The photograph in its two dimensions dares to measure up to that other art. How can we sense melody in the mute picture? With only the chiaroscuro of the photograph, how do we weave to the ebb and surge of harmonic dynamics? How is it that we succumb to the urge to regain balance and then find ourselves raised to the edge of teeter in glorious imbalance again by force of the photograph, gloss or matte thin sheet of paper? How do we accept the shades of flesh and cloth in the black, white, and greys of monochromatic images?
I submit Sally Cohn’s photographs as evidence, that we do so, willy-nilly, with our imaginings, guided, demanded, by this subsequent art: the art of the photographer. The photograph of the dance is not art once removed. It is art once more, intimate, and independent. The dancer in Sally’s lens is an individual, shaping a specific space, engaging yet apart. Sally’s lens loves the dancer, allowing us to participate in that longing. We almost become her very lens, responsible to the figure, responsive to the figure, recognizing its mystery: search and delight.
Art is nothing if not paradox. And one of the oddities of this particular pictorial art is that in the suspension of time of the photograph there is both memory and presence. The photograph becomes not merely a reflection of the dance, but a new vision of it. It betrays the dancer in its stillness, yet it elucidates her by its tenacity. It seems a reflection of the gesture, yet through its looking glass there is another dancer, another reality, an alternative life. The photograph, as we look at it anew, is a statement in continuous creativity. The dance dissipates as hours pass; the photograph preserves. The photograph is a poetic art.
Mutum est pictura poema. A picture is a silent poem.
- Joann Green Breuer