Luca Valletta's job as a digital compositor for the film industry means he travels around the world and never settles for too long in one place. However, one contstant in his life is his passion for photographing ballet dancers using film. His photos highlight a culture rarely documented on film and opens up a whole new perspective on composition and framing using the human form. We talked to Luca about his work, the close relationship between photography and dance as a creative practice and his recent series using the Sprocket Rocket.
Hello Luca, please tell us a bit about yourself?
I'm currently living in London, but I travel all around the world because of my job. I'm a VFX artist for cinema, technically I'm a digital composer, so I'm in charge of merging computer generated images with real footage. Generally I move location every 8-12 months: I have lived in Quebec, Germany, UK, Singapore, British Columbia and Italy. I grew up with a strong image culture and was a big comics reader. I was always the guy with the camera or technology gear and eventually graduated in architecture.
When I was living in Berlin I randomly passed by a fancy vintage shop full of Polaroids and films from what at the time was called Impossible Project. The week after, I bought my first Polaroid from the '90s, after two months I bought my first twin lens camera in a market, now I have more than 20 film cameras in all the formats available. I like to collect them and use them too. Berlin was so vibrant and full of stimulating stuff about film, exhibitions, shops, markets, nice places to shoot, since then my love for film burns again. Now I use 60% film, 40% digital.
How did you get into shooting mostly dancers?
A long time ago I used to take mostly sports photographs, but when I switched back to film I started to take more urban photos, documenting my traveling because I was generally alone working all the week.
I loved my Sundays under the snow walking around Montreal, headphones in my ears, just taking photos. Randomly, in Singapore I joined in a photo-group and they organized a shoot with a dancer. I joined and I studied a lot to be ready for it. I wasn't comfortable to shoot people at first, especially a ballerina, but I was so enlightened by the results, the connection between lines and my style lead by my architecture studies was the perfect match. I tried boudoir, casual portrait, street… but nothing gives me so much satisfaction. Ballet, like photography, is a perfect match between technique and art. The more I study it, the more I like it.
What skills do you need to be able to shoot dancers using film? Is there much prep that goes into it?
Like I said ballet is really technical, so I needed to learn the basic positions to try to speak the same “language” with the dancers. Then my style it is obviously a result of my vision and the tools I’m using. I choose to use film over digital because I like how the shooting flows. You need to use the brain before and not after you press the button. Also the roughness of the grain and one thing only film could give you - the goosebumps you have when you get out the film from the tank and look at a good photo through the light. For some these things can be seen as limitations, but I love them. I had to find the right balance between ballet photography and film photography. For example I do not do jumps, spins, and performance shooting. I’m not sad to loose perfect, ultra-sharp images, incredible autofocus, 800 more focus points, 20 frames per seconds, crazy lens apertures. But no one forbids me to use digital if the client and the shooting request it. I just choose the right tool for what I need.
What made you shoot with the Sprocket Rocket and how do you find the results?
Because I’m using film I’m not stuck on full frame or ASP. I use plenty of different formats, 6x4.5, 6x7,6x9, 6x17, panoramic, square, large format, half frame and each one of them needs a different way to compose the image. I generally take photos in 6x6, square, but I work in the cinema industries, I'm crazy for cinema… panoramic is my true love! (Do not tell this to my Hasselblad please.) The Sprocket Rocket is easy to use and take with me, it has a great and strong character, really sharp in the middle and soft and a bit distorted in the corner. And with the sprocket holes it looks so cool and vintage. But if you want more of a cinematografic feel, cut the sprockets and it looks amazing! Check my St Paul shot, I’m really proud of this picture.
Was it a very easy camera to test out?
It is super easy. Choose the right ISO film for the time and weather, load it, and go out and take pictures. My suggestion is to have a central composition because of the distinctive sharpness in the middle of the frame. If we put the subject close and on a third it might be more difficult to get a good result. Dedicate an extra second to keeping the horizon straight. It cannot be fixed in post-production and because it is panoramic everything becomes more visible. A tripod is an easy solution or a support like a handrail.
If you were a dancer what would you do and what camera would you choose to photograph you?
The Lomo'instant Wide! Every time I take picture with it all the dancers go crazy, it is simple to use, with the remote I can shoot myself easily in every pose, it is wide and people are used to seeing the normal Instax that are quite small, when they see such a big picture they always love it. It is a camera capable of taking good snap memories but also goes pro with the flash synch and bulb mode. And instant photography is a very alive kind of film! It is tangible, real, but also as fast as the world we live in.
Thanks to Luca for sharing these photos with us, to see more of his work, visit his Instagram page.