Get to Know Karli Cadel

In July of 2010, I was fortunate enough to be a member of the inaugural Tap program at The School at Jacob’s Pillow. The previous summer, I later learned, fellow New Yorker
Karli Cadel had interned there as a photographer. We met after I received an email from Karli, via the Pillow, that she was looking for dancers to participate in her senior thesis. Eager to meet a fellow Pillow alumna and get some new dance photos, I replied right away – and Karli and I have been in touch ever since. As she is a terrific young professional with a keen eye and great passion for dance, I thought it would be prudent to interview her and introduce her to the readers of this blog. --Ryan

Why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is Karli Cadel, and I am a documentary and editorial photographer specializing in performing arts, portraiture, and event photography. I was born and raised in San Diego, California and graduated from theater program at San Diego State University and the photography program at Grossmont College in El Cajon. I now hold a Master of Professional Studies in Digital Photography from the School of Visual Arts in NYC, where I live now.
I first combined my passions for live performance and photography in 2009, when I was the Photojournalism Intern at Jacob's Pillow. I was able to continue this work in 2010, capturing artists on stage and behind the scenes as a staff photographer at the Glimmerglass Festival, an internationally renowned summer opera festival. My photographs of dance and opera have been published in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and Dance Magazine.

How did you get interested in and involved in photography?
Growing up, I always took pictures – parties, outings, walks, vacations; if there was a spare camera around, you would find me playing photographer. Making images was always a part of my life, but because I was so involved in music, theatre, and dance growing up, it was never something I considered I could pursue professionally until I realized that I was spending more time shooting photos than memorizing lines for rehearsal. In high school having my photo class before lunch was always a problem because most of the time I would work straight through lunch in the darkroom, sometimes not even realizing my next class was about to start. In college my free time was spent photographing for different campus publications, and it wasn’t until I was given my first concert assignment for The Daily Aztec newspaper at San Diego State University that I discovered how enthralling it was to photograph subjects I had been a part of my entire life.

I have such a strong connection to documenting music, dance, and theatre because I have been immersed in those fields firsthand. Photographing the performing arts has become a springboard for many other personal projects, and I have let my interests flourish into creating portraiture that deals with the personalities, physicality, and personal experiences of performing artists. It is through making this work that I have been given a great personal gift, which is the realization that life doesn’t get much better than when you find a way to combine your passions.

Why did you choose dance(rs) as your primary subject(s) to photograph?
Since my time in 2009 as the Photojournalism Intern at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, I have chosen to make dance the primary focus of my work because it is a subject I feel drawn to explore beyond its surface. There are so many elements of the medium that go unexplored photographically, and Jacob’s Pillow provided an environment in which I was exposed to the many facets of dance, both those that I grew up with and those I have yet to explore with my camera. I’ll know when it time to move on, but right now I have a feeling that capturing movement is something that will captivate me for years to come.

Describe your experience interning at Jacob's Pillow.
Interning at Jacob’s Pillow Dance is an incredible learning experience. For ten-plus weeks you are given a dance education like no other. The caliber of performance you are surrounded by is at the highest and is always thought provoking. Looking back now, for a young photographer it is so much more than three months of shooting dance; it is an independent position that pushes your creative and technical abilities in a range of situations. One day might be full of shooting events, while the next day could be a morning of shooting in The School at Jacob’s Pillow, followed by a dress rehearsal for one of the world-famous companies performing that week. Your mind is always going, which trains your eye to always be looking for your next image. The connections I made that summer and the experiences I gained still affect my work today. It was a roller coaster that I didn’t realize shaped my path as a photographer until my job that summer was complete.

What is your personal mission/style as a photographer?
I strive to create images that are striking on both an artistic and technical level. I’m interested in moments. The beautiful, sad, brave, unpleasant, sorrow, joy – I have always loved capturing the range of reactions we have to our experiences in life. When I’m photographing a performer or arts event in the studio or onstage, the decisive moment for me is when an artist becomes lost in their craft. Perhaps it is my background in the performing arts, but it feeds me as a photographer to provide the visual for someone telling a story, sometimes a piece of their own journey, with their body, voice, words, mind, and heart.

Describe your master's thesis and how it came to fruition.
As a lifelong dancer, I have always wanted to express the aspects of dance that go beyond sheer physical performance, even at its most intense. I realized that for me, the most meaningful way to do this was not with dance itself, but through photography. Thus my thesis project, Moving Meditation, aims to capture the way dance embodies both human emotions and the unique physical personalities of its practitioners. These things are told through my lens by capturing the work of several dancers who perform and train in a variety of styles.
For this endeavor, my visual vocabulary relied on several techniques. I used high-speed flash to freeze the dancer’s movements, and in combination with a grey background, this made them appear as strong, graphic forms in a neutral, stage-like space and allowed them to be seen by the viewer as emblems of physical power and artistry as much as individuals.
I have observed that in the world of contemporary dance, movement itself is a medium that has transcended its own conventions. Dancers create works that speak not only about their own training, but about their personal history and sense of self. I think the same is true of photography. The act of creation is a cumulative meditation on personal, professional, and artistic experience, which is a fundamental part of both photography and dance.

How do you take still images of an art form that is all about movement? How does photography reconcile these opposing dynamics and enhance elements of dance and movement?
For me, the most dynamic images of movement are not solely about capturing the “wow” factor of how high someone can jump, or how muscular their body is. Yes, these qualities are part of dancing; it would be silly not to acknowledge that they provide a context of how rigorous years of regimented training shape and strengthen a dancer’s body. However, when I create work, whether I am being asked to photograph a dress rehearsal or conceptualizing a personal project, I try to never just focus on the physical aspect of dance. As I continue to photograph movement, I find more and more that capturing the internal life of dance lies in the small, subtle details: the position of a hand or hair mid-jump; the effects of stage lighting on the shapes of a dancer’s body; how facial expression completes a phrase of movement – these are only a few aspects which, when photographed, enhance not only the physical element, but emotional energy of the art form.
To learn more about Karli and her work, visit www.karlicadel.com.
Photo Credit: C. Bay Milin.

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