Thursday, June 2, 2011: Behind the Lens

Just like a hunter, a photographer must wait for the right second for the perfect shot

Behind the Lens: The Shooter

When you go to a ballet you probably don’t think about one hidden artist whose work may be the reason you came there in the first place.

Photographer / videographer Pavel Hejny tells Opus Osm about the journey to his work creating posters and iconic photos for The National Theatre Ballet.

Mr Hejny is the kind of guy who needs to get his hands dirty and try things for himself. That’s why he abandoned his original career plan to work in stage design, he says.

“When you see how they do the work in the workshop to create your sets,” he says, still amazed, “you realize you have to actually do the work yourself to get the effect you want.” And then, after the performance when the set is dismantled, “nothing remains.”

So the young Prague native decided to switch to photography instead, and completed a two-year photography course after high school. At the end of his studies he again wanted to get his hands  into it, so he  offered to do some gratis photos for the National Theatre Ballet — which continued for over a year.

“All I had was a cheap digital camera then,” he smiles.

So he also worked for three years as a ticket-taker in a theatre to buy his first camera, and then as an actor in a black light theatre to earn enough money to other necessary equipment. “And as soon as I had the money for the camera, I quit,” he laughs. He left the theatre and began working as a freelance photographer.

Photographer Pavel Hejný explains that fine and commercial photography are two different arts that can't mix

But by then he had already paid many dues. His unpaid training at the National Theatre Ballet helped him “understand dance, and dance as a language.”

Now completing his second year at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague, Mr Hejny is still doing photography for the Ballet, plus a mixture of projects — for The Berg Orchestra, the Dekka Dancers, fashion photography, maybe music videos for rock bands. And the art projects required for his courses. There, he focuses on fine arts – conceptual photography and art pieces, as well as philosophy and theory.

Two Weeks To Do It

So how does he actually create the art for a ballet poster? Obviously, by the opening night it’s already too late for photos. In addition, “the motor drive on the camera is too annoying to the audience” during an actual performance, he explains.

So you might think he first spends weeks examining the set and costumes, making preliminary plans and taking practice photos. No.

He first visits studio rehearsals to figure out the “culmination point” when the dancers will be at the peak of a movement. “It’s like hunting,” as he describes it. “If you ‘take’ the moment just before or just after it – it’s really bad.” He’s been learning a long time to be able to feel the right moment. “I’m still learning, even after five years,” the 24-year-old says.

Then he must wait until about a week before the premiere — for the full-costume rehearsals — and only then can he take the actual photographs which will be used in print materials.

But for the recent production of Cinderella, due to technical problems Mr Hejny didn’t have the luxury of visiting several performances. He was given even less than a week to complete the whole project.

Mr Hejný's Cinderella poster for the National Theatre Ballet

“‘ Make a detail of golden legs,’ they told me.” [Cinderella's golden legs instead of the traditional glass slipper is the main symbol for the production.] “So I watched the performance on CD, and then made the poster.” There’s no rooms for mistakes in such a photo, which appeared not only on the program, but also in larger-than-life size posters.

So what’s in the long-term picture for Mr Hejny?

He wrinkles his nose briefly, then says, “I don’t know what I want to do. I’m just waiting for what life will bring me. My dream is to travel and work around the world. But everything that comes is interesting for me.” – oo

Mr Hejný has photography exhibits three to five times a year; his current work is part of Artsemestr 2011 at the Academy of Arts, Architecture, and Design June 3-12.

– Mary Matz

Photo Credits: Top and bottom, Pavel Hejný; center, Miroslav Setnička

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