Award-winning advertising and editorial photographer Allen Birnbach is fueled by a love of the human spirit and the power and majesty of this planet. Birnbach’s career has spanned the worlds of advertising and fine art photography for over thirty years. His images have been exhibited and celebrated by Communication Arts, Photo District News, The International Color Awards, Photo Design, DoubleTake, the Black and White Spider Awards, and have appeared in numerous books and calendars, including The World’s Greatest Black and White Photography, No.1.
Birnbach, originally from New York City, moved to Colorado in 1973 to shoot a personal project documenting a fourth-generation ranching family but always balancing his fine art work with advertising. He started collaborating and photographing dancers with his “Eden Series” in 1997, because he needed models with both great kinetic abilities and emotional connection to the environment. Through his collaborations with these dedicated artists, he gained a tremendous appreciation and saw them as kindred spirits.
In 2002 he moved to Los Angeles, and it was there he started seeking out relationships with dance companies to shoot the art form itself. Over the four years living there, Birnbach shot for dance companies and produced ad campaigns for clients such as DTS, the motion picture sound company, using dancers as metaphors for balance, agility and grace. Just as he returned to Denver, the Colorado Ballet appointed dance star Gil Boggs as their new artistic director. Boggs wanted to take the Colorado Ballet into a much more vibrant direction, with the goal of showing the joy, athleticism and vitality in the performance of each piece. With his own background as principal dancer for American Ballet Theatre (1991) and performances with such luminaries as Twyla Tharp Dance Company, Baryshnikov and Company and Nureyev and Friends, Boggs envisioned a more progressive and athletic Colorado Ballet that would generate excitement and expand audience growth. Birnbach was brought in to shoot the new campaign and the collaboration is going on five years now. Birnbach worked with agency Karsh and Hagan Advertising and agency President and Account Executive Kathy Hagan, Art Director Kelly Writer and Copywriter Kristi Fisher on the original branding for the dance campaigns from 2006 to 2010. They loved his visceral connection to the dancers and the way he showed a sense of joy so integral to Boggs’ vision for the company. “He knows how to bring to life not only the beauty of the ballet, but the raw athleticism. He is able to capture the spirit, grace and pure muscle of Colorado Ballet's dancers, sometimes shooting them in full costume and other times using the simplicity of a practice leotard to show the incredible lines and balance of their bodies in motion,” says writer Fisher of their collaboration.
The Colorado Ballet campaigns are now with Launch Advertising (Denver). One of Birnbach’s great talents is his ability to get the artists to feel at ease in front of the camera. They not only strike the traditional poses but are comfortable enough to take risks and be more animated to help tell a more interesting story. While Launch has taken Colorado Ballet's brand in some fresh new directions for 2012, they recognized Birnbach’s style and ease with the dancers and were excited to support and continue the company’s long-standing partnership with him. “Allen brings an amazing understanding of dancers, their movement and athleticism. He shares their dedication, their perfectionism, and the instantaneous knowing that a 'best performance' has just occurred, and artfully been captured," says Martha Peck, Launch Creative Director and Partner.
When shooting dancers in motion, the primary challenge is freezing the action. Birnbach used a Canon 5DMarkII, Speedotron 2403CX packs and 105 quad heads, Chimera softboxes and a Mac Pro computer with Eizo monitor. The Speedotron 105 quad heads, each on their own pack, at very low power can get the fastest recycle perfectly suited for sports and dance photography.
Beyond the equipment, it is essential to understand how to translate a movement best appreciated in three dimensional space into two dimensions. “Making seemingly small adjustments in the relationship of the dancer to the camera can make all the difference in the world in making a strong image, says Birnbach.” Dancers, by nature and training, are wonderful collaborators in the creative process. Shooting tethered to a large monitor allowed Birnbach to work directly with Artistic Director Boggs to push an image to its peak potential.
Birnbach’s dynamic images for Colorado Ballet are now being used in regional print advertising, subscription mailers, transit displays, posters, billboards and 6-foot x18-foot banners at the performing arts complex. “What I find most impressive about Allen's work is his eye for detail, light, and most of all his understanding of dance. Allen is a master working with dancers to achieve the desired image,” says Artistic Director Boggs.
In addition to shooting for Colorado Ballet, Birnbach also teaches photography at UCLA Extension in Los Angeles, The Anderson Ranch, Focus on Nature, The Santa Fe Workshops, private workshops and writes for an online blog, ABetterPhotograph.com. He has also lectured for numerous photo equipment manufacturers and consulted on new product developments.
Birnbach has come full circle, as he is currently in the process of expanding his ranch documentary from his early days in Colorado into a new still and video project on “Heritage Ranches of the West.” Even with his assignments, dance always calls to him and many times he can be found partnering with members of the ballet just to play.
You can see much more of Allen Birnbach’s commercial work at: www.allenbirnbach.com and www.allenbirnbachphotography.com. His personal work can be seen at www.birnbachfigureworks.com and www.birnbachimages.com. Allen Birnbach can also be contacted through his photo rep, Doug Truppe, 212-685-1223, www.dougtruppe.com.