Forest Hill photographer contrasts pro dancers against abandoned landscapes
Once Craig Chambers was bitten by the shutter bug he was feverish.
The 36-year-old, who works full-time as a producer for TV’s The Sports Network, admits he hasn’t put the camera down ever since his colleague, and cameraman, Lanny Westgard taught him some of the tricks to his profession six years ago.
Chambers admits, while seated on a sectional in his Forest Hill Village apartment in mid-November, that he’ll squeeze in a photo shoot over the weekend.
His work, photographs of professional dancers in abandoned buildings, are haunting and provocative. They were displayed at the Hub 14 gallery in October under the title Vākənt.
He wears a broad smile while sharing the tales of photo shoots aboard the rusty Grand Hermine in Jordan Harbour, the disparate gymnasium at Alderwood Collegiate in Etobicoke and the Stelfil plant in Longueuil, Que.
The expression is because he had to toe the legal line while entering some of the aforementioned sites. But he never broke the law. Even while hauling his Nikon equipment over the deserted landscapes. And even in “instances when cops came and asked us to leave.”
“It’s one thing if it’s just me going to these places to take photos, which is what most people do, but I am bringing other people,” he admits. “I’m their guide.”
Still, the sense of danger resulting from encountering authority he found invigorating, and he feels that added to the shots.
“You just have to make sure the risks that you’re taking are not too extreme,” he says, especially of his experience of shooting dancer Marie France Forcier on the Grand Hermine. “Younger kids will obviously take bigger risks, but myself, and the professional dancers there, are mostly low-risk situations in terms of safety and being caught.”
How the idea to get dancers to pose in such inhospitable places transpired was after a conversation with his friend, and professional colleague, Kait Dubblestyne. She told him about some of the buildings she discovered in southern Ontario.
Chambers, whose partner Tracey Norman is a professional dancer, connected with some of her colleagues, Forcier included.
“Immediately, I was thinking of putting dancers — because dance photography is primarily what I do — in some of these spaces,” he says. “It could look incredible having a living, breathing person in a space that’s completely dead.
“Dancers are so beautiful in how they articulate their bodies.”
The life and death contrast caught the eye of many, and Chambers counts the October exhibit as a success. His TSN colleague, Cabral Richards, even bought one of his prints.
Next on the agenda is a trip to his hometown of London, Ont. for his second exhibit of Vākənt.
But before that another big photographic moment will be born. Chambers and his partner are expecting their first child in February. The gender is unknown, but the little one has already been photographed, as Chambers admitted his favourite photos from the shoots were of Norman.
“Tracey’s mom had said to me, it’s going to be the most photographed baby,” he says, with a laugh. “I don’t know if I’ll have time to, between crying.”