Tyler Shields: The Art of Ballet
Ballet has been something that has come in and out throughout my entire life, and has always fascinated me – the precision, the dedication, the passion it requires. It’s not a job, it is their life, much the same way as photography is for me.
Best known for his shocking photographs of Hollywood’s elite, Tyler Shields has another muse that continues to captivate him and his audience – ballet. As one of the most disciplined dance forms, ballet dancers are required to dedicate their entire life and body in order to properly execute the classic technique and form. They have been the subject of countless shoots by the photographer, but his admiration for the dancers goes beyond their ethereal aesthetic. Shields often parallels ballet with lessons to be learned in life, including dedication, choice, and the strive for perfection. As much as he captures their beauty, he appreciates the struggle it has taken to achieve it.
Shields sees his ballerina subjects as more than just models; their practice makes them role models. He writes, “The art of ballet is one of the few things that can not be faked. It takes maximum effort, full dedication. This is something we can all apply to our lives – the art of dedication.” More than dedicating themselves to dance, Shields allots their dedication to the idea of perfection. Ballet is an art that relies heavily on aesthetics and the visual perception from an audience, much like photography. If ballet is the “refined movement of simple elegance,” as described by Shields, it’s easy to relate it to the staged nature of his photographs. He achieves his vision through the precise manipulation of props and models, attempting to capture beauty by a different standard.
One of Shields’ most powerful ballet photographs is Pointe. The image shows the stark comparison between the polished appearance of the art form and the agonizing work it takes to pull it off – unseen by nearly everyone but the dancer themself. It took Shields six years to photograph Pointe just right. He recounts, “Every time I would meet a ballerina I would ask to see her feet.” In 2014, he got the shot he was looking for. Taking direct inspiration from his subject, Shields was able to capture his most liked and shared photos of all time through the strive for perfection.
Ballet may be a surprising muse for the photographer best known for his controversial shots. But Shields’ admiration can be seen as an extension of how he approaches his own art form. Like a ballet performance, a photograph fails to capture the years of toil and commitment it takes to bring everything together perfectly in a polished moment. He writes, “So many people view struggle as weakness, but you will never enjoy the top if you didn’t look up from the bottom.” As Shields sees it, that struggle is as beautiful as the reward.
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