Artist of the Month: Emily Black

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Mississippi transplant Emily Black photographs dazzling portraits of ballerinas and athletes.

Photography wasn’t the path Mississippian Emily Black meant to take. She studied design/illustration at Mississippi State University and sculpture at the University of Houston. Her thesis involved corsets and porcelain feet bound in basket weave. “It was an abstract way of looking at the female form and the ways we restrict women’s bodies,” she says.

Since then, following a move to England, a divorce and a return to Houston, where she started her photography career based on a friend’s suggestion, her work has returned to this theme. In a downtown Scottsdale co-working studio, she photographs ballerinas, using light to depict physical strength, muscle and power. “My work now is an explosion of being unrestricted,” she says.

To get the best shots, Black crouches low to the floor, points her Canon Mark IV up, and snaps high-speed (ISO 5000) frame after frame. She captures and halts in mid-air a dancer’s jumps, twirls and limb origami. They collaborate on every shot, and there are many do-overs.

“When I first started, I was doing portraits. I was used to having free rein,” Black says. This is not the case with dancers. “‘My foot’s wrong. My hand’s wrong. My knees are wrong,’ they’d say.” Now, she lets them help direct. For them, it’s about performance and precision, not appearance.

At first she was dazzled by the dancers’ flying leaps. Now Black – who also photographs yogis and strength trainers, usually on commission – is more impressed with their control. “When the girls can stand, jump 12 inches off the ground and land delicately, it looks so beautiful. They’re proud of their bodies,” she says. “They’ve taught me to let go of my own self-judgment.” Find her work at

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