Alonzo King LINES Ballet is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year with a special exhibition of photography by RJ Muna at San Francisco International Airport. RJ has been photographing dance in the Bay Area for more than 20 years, and has been collaborating with LINES Ballet since 2009. The 14 images are something of a retrospective of the partnership between photographer and company.
“I think as time goes on, they trust me a little more with the lighting and the idea in the shot. We started very simple, and then began to think more elaborately in terms of idea. Now we kind of go back and forth between something that’s very clean and pure and something that’s a little more high concept,” said RJ.
The celebrated contemporary ballet company has been guided by Alonzo King’s unique artistic approach since the early 1980s. King creates pieces that draw on a diverse set of deeply rooted cultural traditions to take classical ballet in a new expressive direction.
Many of the dancers have been with LINES for a number of years, and throughout the collaboration, have become friends with RJ. These relationships have contributed to the photography.
“They have confidence in me, they feel comfortable in front of the camera. They know I’m going to get them at the right time and they’re willing to work very hard because they’re confident with the results. I think that’s probably the biggest factor in terms of the evolution—they’re on board with what we’re doing,” RJ explained.
Many of the images were included in a book published by Alonzo King LINES Ballet in 2013, but this is the first time a collection of images has been presented publicly. The images are usually viewed as a single image in a brochure, on the side of a bus, or a billboard to promote the company.
“We never see them all together—it’s a whole different experience. It’s pretty interesting to see the image by itself, but it’s also incredibly satisfying to see the best images as a group. It gives you a sense that you’ve accomplished something over time,” said RJ.
RJ is well known for his high-end automotive photography, but has long enjoyed photographing dancers. He’s won numerous awards for his work including the International Center of Photography’s Infinity Award, a Clio Award, a Lucie Award, and most recently a Silver award in the Graphis 2018 Photography Annual for his portraits of Alonzo King LINES Ballet dancers. His film work has been featured in festivals including the Dance On Camera Festival and the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, among others.