Two bare feet rise up to demi-point, the bandaged first, fourth and fifth toes models of symmetry. Old rose polish is chipping away from the cuticles. Our eyes at floor level, we see the ankles bend forward in a forced arch, as if bowing, acknowledging an audience. The heels lower and the toes wiggle to release.
In another frame, we see the curve of a lower back contracting, compressing upward like an angry cat, then stretching horizontally and arching down into cow pose. In another, a face looks straight at the camera — blonde hair unbound, grey-green eyes blinking. Not turning away, not demanding applause. It is Heather Ogden, principal dancer of the National Ballet of Canada and muse of Toronto-based photographer Christopher Wahl’s microsite, The Heather Project.
“An extension of my still portrait work,” Wahl says, “The Heather Project is a photographer’s view of the moving image, as if to point the camera but not press the button.”
Wahl’s moving pictures open 25 windows into Ogden’s daily life as a dancer, allowing us to look closely. Really closely. The frames focus on often neglected body parts: collarbones, the back of an elbow, muscles above the knees. The muted black, grey and flesh tones highlight textures: smooth nylon leotard, sheer chiffon skirt, chunky leg warmers, satin ribbon, wooden barre. In the background, we hear a piano, instructions shouted out, the clomping of pointe shoes landing jumps. Physical practice is packaged into manageable moments: here, she prepares for a double pirouette; there, she props up a leg on the barre and folds her torso over it; here, a burst of exhalations as she does side crunches; there, her arched feet in pointe shoes lift like little scoops. Through it all, Ogden is the picture of serenity — exhausted but unruffled, focused but not closed off, artist and artwork in progress.
It’s truly moving work, a beautiful exercise in paying attention — and something I’ve been meaning to share for more than a month now. Below is a preview of Wahl’s project, though it’s worth clicking on to the actual microsite. Enjoy!