On the first day of the archive inventory two things became clear:
1) We’ve got a great team in place.
Patsy’s archival technician skills, my background as a dance scholar, and Eiko’s extensive knowledge about her own materials are a great combination. Since we won’t have Eiko with us for large chunks of time, we’re prioritizing projects like identifying unmarked photos and going through her 19 (!) hard drives that contain moving image material to determine what is archivable.
2) There are some urgent preservation needs.
As we started to dig into three binders containing original and duplicate posed and performance photographs, it immediately became evident that they were in need of rehousing. Patsy contacted the DHC office, and enclosed paperboard albums and polyurethane sleeves were ordered before the first day was over. The DHC also ordered two archival drives. When the supplies arrive, we will transfer the photos and digital files to their new long-term, user-friendly, and archivally-sound homes.
Once we dealt with big picture issues (no pun intended), we began to really dig into the photo files.
It’s impossible to overestimate the value of pictures of Eiko & Koma. Certainly they have archival importance. While Eiko & Koma have excellent video documentation of their body of work, some pieces, like Fluttering Black, lack any record other than photographs. But photos are also an important vehicle for understanding Eiko & Koma’s choreography, and even for witnessing their creative process. For example, when I am lecturing about their work, I often use photos rather than video, especially if I have a limited amount of time, say 20 minutes, to present. Paradoxically, their still images practically burst with movement, while their movement, live or on video, develops at the speed of a flower growing and blooming.
Of course, that their photos convey such a full expression of their aesthetic is not only to Eiko & Koma’s credit. They have had the privilege to work with a number of talented photographers over the past 40 years. Frequent collaborators include Tom Brazil, Philip Trager, Beatriz Schiller, Johan Elbers, Jan Henle, Kazunobu Yanagi, Marion Gray, Marcus Leatherdale, and David Fullard. As we examine each photo, we often don’t need to check for the photographer’s stamp on the back because Eiko immediately recognizes them.
Eiko tells Patsy and me that they never really hired photographers, but instead worked with the photographers who came to see them perform or who suggested that they do studio sessions together. The studio sessions were often an opportunity for Eiko & Koma to play around in the environments that they had created, and to try out movement for future dances. In her memory, neither dancers nor photographers were paid. Money only changed hands when they purchased the prints that they wanted to use.
Eiko points out that they chose the pictures in their archive with an eye to what newspapers would publish. For example, they quickly discovered that papers would never publish a photo of just one of them – they are a duo, after all. So they always chose images of the two of them. Moreover, they often had to condense the space between their two bodies for the photographic frame, sometime in contradiction of their spatial relationship in the piece at hand. All this to say that the photos in their collection largely represent their practical needs rather than decisions about how to best produce an artistic preservation of particular dances.
As we went through identifying each photo, I was excited to discover some images I’d never seen before like the above 1978 photo by Philip Hipwell of Eiko & Koma on the closed West Side Highway. I love the way this image presages Eiko & Koma’s outdoor work and their deep and lasting kinesthetic relationship with New York City.
I was also thrilled to discover a (sealed) copy of Jan Henle’s collection of Eiko & Koma photos, Drifting On Melody Smoke; A Flower Opening to the Moon (1980). Henle made only 9 copies of this collection. One copy sits on a shelf in Eiko and Koma’s hall closet; another belongs to the International Center of Photography in New York. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts also holds a copy in their collection.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention how much our inventory of Eiko & Koma’s photo collection benefitted from all the work done by the Walker Art Center in preparation for their 2011 catalogue, Time is Not Even, Space is Not Empty. If you haven’t seen the catalogue yet, it is filled with stunning images of Eiko & Koma, accompanied by details about every dance they’ve ever choreographed, and fascinating essays and interviews. You can read more about it here.