Snapping To It

One hundred tinted water glasses just weren’t as interesting as a dozen narrow metal-rimmed barrels to Lecturer on Education Wendy Richmond and the dancers of Snappy Dance Theater. After all, it’s rather difficult to hang a drinking glass from the ceiling and stand on it, as a Snappy dancer does atop a metal-rimmed barrel in the cover photograph for Overneath, a recently published photography book stemming from a six-month collaboration between Richmond and the Cambridge-based dance company.

“Oh my God,” Richmond remembers exclaiming when she first saw Snappy perform at a fund-raiser. She says she felt there was “this incredible similarity” between her photography and the dancing. Soon Richmond was in touch with Snappy Artistic Director Martha Mason and sitting in on the company’s rehearsals. Before long, Richmond, whose previous installations were all of inanimate objects, decided the acrobatic Snappy dancers would make ideal subjects.

Step one of a Snappy Dance-cum-photography project? Find the right props. Richmond set up two installations for the first session, one with the water glasses and one with the narrow metal-rimmed barrels. Richmond, Mason and the other Snappy dancers ultimately decided on the barrels—which were originally used in the textile industry to hold cotton—because, after all, the barrel is a more versatile instrument: you can stand on it, throw it, hang it from the ceiling, roll on it, or stick it on a head, leg or arm. Mason says the barrels “felt dirty, heavy, painful—but at the same time empowering. If you stand on them, you’re a lot taller. If you put them on your head, it’s like a mask.”

After seven sessions, Richmond ended up with hundreds of photographs. But how to separate the photographic wheat from the chaff? “I chose the ones that felt powerful to me,” she explains. Richmond says that because sequence is so important in a book, choosing photos for Overneath was different from choosing them for an exhibition. Trying to decide what order to put the photos in was an even more challenging task. “I made little printouts and carried them around like a deck of cards,” she says. “I kept shuffling them to see what order felt right.”

But the selection of Overneath as the title was a more spontaneous decision. One day in a meadow, Richmond’s husband traipsed over a bridge to peek at something underneath. When he tried to ask her to glance underneath, “he mixed up his words,” Richmond remembers. “I said, ‘That’s it!’”