Behind camera with a love for dance

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TO NDR Kieron Jina and Joni Barnard in Synergy_CITY_E1 Val Adamson ACTION: Kieron Jina and Joni Barnard in Synergy.

WHETHER you’re an arts practitioner or a fan of the arts, it’s hard not to know who Val Adamson is.

Her photography of the arts dominates many of the print and online arts publications, and she’s also well known as an avid supporter of and activist for the industry.

So when this year’s National Arts Festival programme was released and Adamson’s Love Dance exhibition was included on the main, many celebrated the acknowledgment with her.

Tonight spoke with Adamson last week. We wanted to get a feel of the person behind the camera and find out more about her passion for dance and the arts – which apparently partly stems from a secret desire to be a dancer.

Born in Kenya, Adamson and her family moved to Scotland when she was 12 years old. She spent her school and college years there, where she studied photography at the Napier College in Edinburgh. She later moved to South Africa to pursue a professional career.

We began our chat about Adamson’s journey into photography and where it all began, or, as it turns out, where it almost never began.

TO NDR Neliswa Rushualang in Body of evidence_CITY_E1 Neliswa Rushualang in Body of Evidence Val Adamson

She explains: “I was supposed to study zoology and psychology and I just figured I don’t want to go and sit in a lab and I don’t want to be Jane Goodall. So we were looking at the local college and we saw a photography course and I thought it sounded interesting. I went for an interview. I was 17 because I started school early, and they said you’re very young, go away for a year, grow up, if you’re still interested then come back.”

After a gap year in the US working as a nanny, her employers at the time gave Adamson a camera “to play with” – but obviously destiny was determined to get her back to that college.

“I started taking pictures of kids. I travelled a lot and took pictures of that and kind of figured that I was enjoying this… But it was when I was in Chicago and saw an advert for an Ansel Adams exhibition and I thought who is this dude? I walked in and I think that was the final moment when I thought I have got to be a photographer. When I saw his work I was blown away. I knew I wanted to be a photographer.”

After reapplying to the college she was accepted. “They said they’d like to have someone who knew nothing,” she laughs, explaining: “Technically I knew nothing but then I caught up after about a year. I’m very happy I chose this profession.”

Getting to Adamson’s obvious passion in her photography – the arts, she said: “It’s the people in the arts who drive me. I just love working with these talented people. And I think I secretly wish I could be a dancer. I’m a frustrated wannabe,” she jokes, adding that she finds that, visually, what is created in dance and theatre is beautiful.

“Watching dance is an exciting, engrossing experience that, once the performance is over, becomes an evocative emotion and lingering memory. My challenge and thrill has been to endeavour to capture some of those moments and, in so doing, save that image for posterity and allow the viewer to relive the beauty of live dance,” she said.

We began to chat more about her exhibition at the NAF. She explained that the exhibition was originally commissioned by KZN DanceLink and premiered at The Pumphouse, Durban beachfront, in July last year.

The exhibition consists of 14 A1, 37 A2 and 7 A3 prints, as well as 12 full-size, self-standing doors with Adamson’s images on them – a concept by the renowned David Gouldie and constructed by Bryan Hiles.

“I had to work through many years of my work.

“Unfortunately, I don’t have many of the very early ones, because the quality wasn’t good in those days. Technology has come a long way in helping me with dance,” she chuckles, adding that she loved the idea of having the doors as an element in the exhibition. The exhibit covers about 20 years of Adamson’s work.

Commenting further on her work being shown at the NAF she said: “I just think this is where it needs to be, because this is the right audience for it. It’s a huge honour to have been chosen, I know not a lot gets chosen for the main and it’s a huge festival this year, so I’m very excited.

“I just hope the exhibition will have a little bit of an effect on people and they will be encouraged to go and see more dance.”

• Love Dance will be showcased at the NAF Red Foyer, Rhodes Theatre, daily from 9am to 6pm. The festival runs from July 3 to 13.


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