Backstage at The Utah Arts Festival 2018: Marc Santos’ The Spirit of Dance photographic exhibition among visual arts highlights presented at The City Library


Of all the performing arts genres, dance is the most intimidating when it comes to photographs that truly represent the individual’s artistic expression of skilled movement. Dance is an ethereal art, even in its growing story-telling power which has dominated 21st century works. Accomplished dancers create marvelous geometric spaces of lines, angles, dimensions and planes that convey the thematic impetus of the choreographed piece. The body’s power of expression is realized in incredible imagery.

The dancers who are the subjects of The Spirit of Dance, a photographic exhibition by New York City artist Marc Santos, are portrayed in the most realistic presentation of their movement in time and space. To capture a still image showing dancers occupying several points of time in their movement, Santos used long shutter speeds and exposure to show the light tracing the movement path.

“Fixing Perspective” by Marc Santos. Part of ‘The Spirit of Dance’ gallery exhibit at the Salt Lake City Public Library.

The exhibition is one of the featured fine art shows being presented in the City Library, the main indoor venue for the 42nd annual Utah Arts Festival (June 21-24). Presented as part of the Library’s ongoing special exhibition program, Santos’ photographs are in the exhibition space on the Lower Urban Room level, now through July 20.

While Santos always has been fascinated with chronicling an extended period in a still frame, the project featuring dancers arose by accident two years ago. “I was feeling down on the day I learned that I would not be able a documentary film project in Haiti as a photographer, because the budget only was enough for one, not two photographers,” Santos says in an interview with The Utah Review. “And after seeing images of the production in progress, I had really wanted to be there.”

Marc Santos

His dejection evaporated one day, by accident. On the side, Santos worked as a theater technician (along with being a jazz saxophonist) and went to the venue where a dance company was rehearsing. Inspired by the group’s “different energy” that day, as he describes it, he took his camera out and started snapping photographs. Later, he realized that he had the wrong settings, creating much longer exposures than what he thought he had planned. But, “instead of freaking out, I realized how superbly it worked out,” he recalls.

Previously, he only had a passing interest in dance but this unexpected discovery “fixed my perspective,” as he explains it, which also is the title of the first image presented in the exhibition. Santos sought out dancers both in contemporary and classical ballet form as potential subjects. He started attending dance concerts, remembering how thrilled he was to see Misty Copeland dance in Swan Lake, the most quintessential ballet of the repertoire. Copeland had just been named soloist in the American Ballet Theatre, beginning in the 2007-2008 season.

These experiences synthesized the creative approach he took in his work. He moved the camera to match the dancers’ movements without using a tripod. He would observe the movement in a piece several times and note the moments where he wanted to capture the image. Naturally, photographing improvised work added a complex layer but he relied on intuition honed by the visual memories of watching dance concerts.

‘Tops’ by Marc Santos. Part of ‘The Spirit of Dance’ gallery exhibit at the Salt Lake City Public Library.

The exhibition echoes with an authentic passion and respect for dance movement’s unique qualities of temporalities and grace. Santos’ artistic grounding was established in his childhood, as he watched his father, who also was a wedding photographer and ran a one-hour photo lab, a once prominent fixture in any neighborhood. Santos’ parents came from the Philippines where his father worked in a governmental press secretary’s office.

“When the adults would ask me at family get-togethers what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said a photographer,” he recalls. “My father swelled with pride and that’s how I got my first camera.” As he became more skilled, his father would sell the camera and upgrade to better equipment. “In high school, I started experimenting with longer exposures in the frame and I thought that was really cool,” Santos recalls. “My father didn’t say not to do it but he did warn me that I would be going through a lot of film.”

Marc Santos at Great Salt Lake. Photo Credit: Winston Seiler.

He also accompanied his father on wedding gigs. “It was very important to see how he made people comfortable about being photographed, which really is one of the most important skills a photographer could have,” he explains. It is a lesson that has served Santos well, as he established trust with the dancers who are the subjects of this new exhibition.

Santos, whose work as a photojournalist has been featured in national media and has included images for music albums and book covers,

Santos’ exhibition in Salt Lake City also came about with a serendipitous twist. Every spring and fall The City Library puts out a call for entries for exhibitions. Deadlines are April 10 and Oct. 11 for entries, and the library’s art committee convenes with representatives of the gallery spaces available in the system’s eight library branches. One of Santos’ friends had forwarded the call for entries to him and he decided to apply, thinking it might be a good chance to see Salt Lake City for the first time.

“We go over all the submissions and then start the acceptance/rejection process,” David Forsman, associate librarian for nonfiction and audiovisual materials at the main branch, explains. “Marc submitted ‘The Spirit of Dance’ and it really hit me.”

For more information about the festival and the library’s centerpiece presence for many activities, see here.

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Les Roka
I am a native of Toledo, Ohio, having received my Ph.D. in journalism and mass communication from Ohio University's Scripps School of Journalism in 2002. In addition to teaching at Utah State University and the University of Utah, I have worked extensively in public relations for a variety of organizations including a major metropolitan university, college of osteopathic medicine, and community college. When it comes to intellectual curiosity, I venture into as many areas as possible, whether it’s about music criticism, the history of journalism, the practice of public relations in a Web 2.0 world and the soon-to-arrive Web 3.0 landscape, or how public debates are formed about many issues especially in the political arena. As a Salt Lake City resident, I currently write and edit a blog called The Selective Echo that provides an entertaining, informative, and provocative look at Salt Lake City and its cosmopolitan best. I also have been the U.S. editorial advisor for an online publication Art Design Publicity based in The Netherlands. And, I use social media tools such as Twitter for blogging, networking with journalists and experts, and staying current on the latest trends in culture and news. I also have been a regular monthly contributor to a Utah business magazine, and I have recently conducted a variety of editing projects involving authors and researchers throughout the country and the world, including Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Lebanon, Cyprus, the United Kingdom, France, and Japan. I’m also a classically trained musician who spent more than 15 years in a string quartet, being involved in more than 400 performances.

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