From May 5th-June 9th, 2016 Berenson Fine Art will be exhibiting the Voyage into a Sacred Harbour, a new body of work by Aleksandar Antonijevic, photographer and former Principal Dancer of The National Ballet of Canada. This will mark Antonijevic’s third original body of work and first since his retirement from professional dancing and consists of a collection of 20 nude prints of 12 current dancers from The National Ballet of Canada. The collection intimately captures the shapes and shadows of the meticulously trained body in its purest and most vulnerable form. We sat down with Aleksandar Antonijevic to learn more about his upcoming exhibition.
1. When did you discover your passion for photography?
My love affair with photography has evolved over many years into the deep passion that it is today. I was surrounded by photography my whole life – my stepfather Janos is a photo hobbyist who accumulated a vast camera collection. As a principal dancer in a major ballet company for over 25 years, I was often part of dance imagery, both in studio and on stage. Before my 40th birthday, I felt the urgency to find my next career that would include an artistic outlet, so I decided to buy a pro camera (a Canon 5D Mark II). And as they say, the rest is history. Immediately, it felt familiar and comfortable.
My home of 25 years, The National Ballet of Canada, invited me to tour in Ottawa and photograph performances of The Sleeping Beauty. The images were published in print the following day, which sparked my excitement. I may have tapped into something I could continue, considering I had only recently picked up the camera.
My passion for photography has now emerged in a big way. I dream of images, while in my waking hours I obsessively observe and compose frames. I possess many ideas of how to capture an image or subject that is meaningful and inspiring to me and other viewers. Whether a client-based project or the creation of a fine art body of work that I have been developing for a couple of years, I try to come from a true and honest place and never compromise on the highest level of quality and sophistication.
2. How has this new art form help you transition from a successful career in ballet?
Dancers are a unique breed of human in many ways, perhaps particularly in the way we identify with what we do. I believe if you ask a dancer who they are, their immediate response would be “a dancer,” even before a human being or a parent. The process of facing retirement at a relatively young age can be overwhelming and concerning in many ways, but it is that adage, “who am I, if not a dancer?” that seems the most disconcerting. Over the many decades of training and performance, putting in full days, weeks, months and even years of intense physical work, it is not easy to cultivate external interests or discovering what one’s ‘next life’ might be.
Having been retired from dance for two years, I can honestly say that photography has saved me. Having been able to make an instinctive and conscious decision to pursue a different art form to express my thoughts and desires is another gift given and helps me to redefine who I am. It feels like being a robust teenager again, pushing and innocently learning. I still don’t know the full complexity of the craft and am excited to challenge all of the obstacles that lie ahead. My innate sense of wonder and invisibility is giving me a lot of energy to listen to my intuition and artistry. Surprisingly, it is through this inevitable transition that I have confirmed with crystal clarity that I am an artist. I know I have been creating for 25 years professionally through dance, but the continued need to express myself, now through visual imagery, is what cements and defines my sense of self.
3. Where did you draw you inspiration from for this upcoming exhibit?
I believe many artists draw their inspiration from the old masters. Painting, sculpture and drawings leave an imprint and shape even the most contemporary artists of today. I am obsessed with painters like Vermeer and Rembrandt, Caravaggio and Botticelli to name a few. No matter what kind of image I present, they are in the back of my mind. As an example – how Vermeer had complete control of light, a sense of how to stage a scene and in a gentle, quiet way, allow the art work as a whole to speak to the viewer. Or how Rodin could produce most beautiful line of muscularity out of stone!
I knew I wanted to work with the human form in that anatomical, sculptural way. Nudes are a constant in my expression, most probably because I have a complete knowledge of human form and shape, not only through my eyes, but from within my own body that I have been training for over 35 years, perfecting line and expression in front of a mirror. I had about 14 subjects in this process of creating “Voyage into a Scared Harbour” and over 15000 images to edit and ultimately select and develop. I may be an unusual photographer in the way I live with my images for a long time before I start seeing a whole visual sentence, even though taking a photo is considered “instantaneous”. This body of work has taken over two years from conception and initial shooting to the 20 “sculptural photographs” hanging at Berenson Fine Art.
4. What can we expect to see from Aleksandar Antonijevic in the future?
If you were to ask me seven years ago when I started photography if I would be a part of a fine art gallery where I am able to present my work alongside Toulouse-Lautrec, Andy Warhol and oils of the famous Italian painter Marco Sassone, I would not have believed it. And even though I consider myself a quiet achiever, I now know that there is a reason I belong there. My uncompromising insistence on expecting the best of myself is what got me there. I treated my ballet career and art form with utmost respect and I do the same with my photography. All of my subjects deserve the best of me in every sitting. They have trained their bodies for years, as I did, and those human art works must be documented in the most respectful and poetic way – and viewed with reverence.