Review Guest Speaker – Erik Sawaya

MCC Member Erik Sawaya is a internationally published photographer, who among other things works with ballet companies in Australia and around the world. Thank you to Erik for stepping in to present at very short notice on 21 October, after the advertised speaker cancelled.

Erik can be contacted at Studio Erik Sawaya 

Not everyone is possessed of Erik Sawaya’s openness of spirit – a spirit that led him bit by bit towards what he came to recognise as his life’s  passion: photographing ballet dancers.

On track in Canada as an undergraduate business major Sawaya was flicked off course by a friend who encouraged him to follow his more creative instincts into the world photography.  One thing led to another.  

Sawaya’s career stepping-stones were laid in Amsterdam where chance conversations and encounters with people in the events industry led to him taking on a project at the Stedelijk Museum, running a studio in Amsterdam for a German photography company, shooting a rock and roll band … In his words he became “a jack of all trades”. And then there was the ballerina.  He said she “walked mysteriously into my life and walked out just as quickly”.  But another door opened and he was invited to shoot a rehearsal with the Dutch National Ballet Company.  Sawaya said: “this stirred my creative passion – it was the start of something big.” Importantly it gave him photographic access to the company both front of house and behind the scenes and led to further professional opportunities. Finally, it was the full length portrait he took of a Mexican dancer that confronted him with the startling realisation of his own success. When in Mexico to shoot the gala event itself he saw one of his images enlarged to fill the frame of an imposing billboard. He said “At that moment I recognised people valued my work and I appreciated the position I was in.” Don’t we all need a bit of in-your-face acknowledgment from time to time! 

There are few ballet companies in Australia where Sawaya now lives. Even so, eighty percent of his commercial work is devoted to ballet. In addition to working with established companies in Australian and overseas Sawaya works with up and coming dancers, particularly in Sydney. 

His signature portrait style is high key, crisp and young. Picture the unstrained tension between strength and elegance of a dancer poised at the climax of mid-air leap.

To achieve this look he uses a large key-light above and two large fill-lights either side of his subjects. “I don’t tend to do multi frames,” he said. The real art of his work comes from getting the timing right. After years of attuning himself to what ballet dancers are trying to achieve, and knowing what is special about what he is witnessing, he has become expert in anticipating the right moment to take the shot.   

We are fortunate that when things open up after our sixth lockdown in Melbourne Erik Sawaya will again be offering his popular behind the scenes ballet workshops. He will also coordinate MCC’s monthly Photographic Lighting Group at the Clubrooms.  

By Helen Lang 

The video will available on the Members Video Library page