Above: Precious Adams photographed by Jason Bell HonFRPS for English National Ballet. Right: An assistant perched above the American ballet dancer provides a cascade of feathers. Below right: Poster for the 2019 English National Ballet production of Swan Lake
Jason Bell’s credits include portraits of internationally renowned actors, musicians and politicians, as well as campaigns for major TV series including The Crown, Killing Eve, Downton Abbey and Outlander.
An Honorary Fellow of the Society since 2011, Bell tells the story behind one of his favourite images, a portrait of the American ballet dancer Precious Adams.
“This image was made for English National Ballet’s Swan Lake campaign in 2018. I shoot on location a lot and there’s usually an idea behind an image, but this photograph came more from playing in the studio. We decided to shoot on a white background, which I don't do very often, and the simplicity of it was appealing.
“There’s been a lot of talk about the ‘whitewashing’ of black women in images, to make their skin look paler. Partly as a reaction to that, and partly because I hadn’t seen many black ballerinas do Swan Lake, I definitely wanted to make Precious Adams’s skin look very dark and the feathers very white. The whole colour range was very important: I wanted the image to have a blue hue and an almost solarised appearance.
“The pose is very elegant, as you’d expect from a ballerina. For all the ballet work I do, even if the initial idea for a picture can on its own seem a bit flat, someone will come in and come up with a fantastic pose and bang, something incredible happens.
“Behind the scenes, a situation like this is always so much more lowbrow – for this image, out of shot there was a scruffy assistant standing on a ladder dropping feathers on her. The tight confines of the viewfinder create this glamorous world and that’s the joy of photography.”
Jason Bell HonFRPS selects his best shots in the May/June issue of the RPS Journal.
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