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best of 2015
Elliott Kaufman
New York City

Elliott Kaufman describes New York City as "a laboratory in constant movement." In his series "Street Dance," Kaufman photographs repetitive actions of passersby — such as riding a bicycle or entering a subway station — from a single vantage point and arranges the images in a grid.

© Elliott Kaufman

© Elliott Kaufman


On capturing repetitive motion: “The camera catches the commonality of movement,” Kaufman says, “until what endures is a pattern of dance and motion.”

ASMP: What is the concept behind your series "Street Dance?" Where did you photograph the images?

Elliot Kaufman: This series is called Street Dance because it pulses with the constant movement of the city, broken down into sequential compositions. There is a staccato rhythm as these images strive to capture the dance that occurs when we fracture the space and allow the participants free reign within the frame. The dance engages bicyclists, people walking up and down subway steps, even reflections at the sharp stainless-steel corner of a building. It is fast movement captured and then composed into a continuous flow of images. Some are 48 separate exposures and some are as many as 225. The camera catches the commonality of the movement until what endures is a pattern of dance and movement. The series was photographed entirely in New York City.

ASMP: The images are redolent of Eadweard Muybridge — they show the mechanisms of various sorts of movement. What first got you interested in the topic of movement?

EK: The city itself is a laboratory in constant movement, it was just a matter of how to enter that space and understand how to express it in the most experimental way I knew how.

ASMP: You explain in your statement that the position of the sun greatly affects the way you capture the images. Can you talk a little about that?

EK: Key to this series was observing the positioning of the sun and how the environment would be altered by the movement of light. I needed to anticipate exactly what the sun would do when it reached a certain angle and how it would affect and inform the photograph. The bicycles had to be backlit at the very end of the day and the subway steps were calculated so that the light would cast perfect north/south shadows. In one image, I had to calculate and capitalize on the reflections and refractions off store windows that cast angular shadows. Different times of the year required different times of the day.

ASMP: You are an architecture and travel photographer. What was it like to switch gears for "Street Dance" and focus on repetition of a single subject?

EK: The grid is very much a part of the language of architecture. So it really wasn't so much of a gear switch as it was using something that has been known to me in my visual vocabulary and compositions.

ASMP: Do you have any other similar personal projects?

I did a project a few years ago called "Time Transformations." I photographed a static image of the sky for up to 24 hours, so that the composites went from evening to night through the day and back to evening and night. Each frame was timed for one-minute intervals so there were 60 frames across and 24 down, totaling 1,400 frames. This was all about the movement and happenstance of nature, which evolved into the complete unpredictability of the urban environment.

ASMP: How long have you been an ASMP member? What initially prompted you to join?

EK: I joined when I first arrived in New York in 1983, but let my membership lapse for a while as I saw that there was no time to spend toward it. I rejoined about 8-10 years ago, as I felt that the organization was really doing the best job possible of helping the individual photographer, and that I could benefit from that. I was also looking for camaraderie amongst other photographers who have the same length of experience as I.

ASMP: What is the most important relationship you've formed through your ASMP membership?

EK: The members of the local ASMP New York chapter.