IN FRONT OF THE LENS

Loie Fuller dancing Loie Fuller dancing

The two pictures above were taken in 1902 by the Massachusetts born photographer Frederick W. Glasier, who compiled a collection of photographs which depicted circus performers between 1890 and 1925. In the second picture, which is titled ‘The Butterfly Dance’, Fuller is identified on the negative as ‘Glorine’. Glasier used his “speeded up” lens to capture the sinuous motion of Fuller’s silks and also manipulated the negative to obscure any background in the photograph which might have distracted from the shape of Fuller’s costume.

Loie Fuller dancing6

Loie Fuller dancing

Benjamin J. Falk captured the two next pictures (above in 1901 with the aim of emphasising this notion of Fuller as a butterfly. ‘Loie Fuller in Wide Cape’ (photo 8) is meant to represent a butterfly with its wings in repose whereas ‘Loie Fuller as a Butterfly’ (photo 6) which shows the dancer with her silk clad arms outstretched, portrays the dancer as if she is about to take flight.

BEHIND THE LENS

Loie Fuller (1862-1928) began her stage career at the age of four and went on to perform with stock companies, circuses, vaudeville and burlesque shows. It was a variation on a traditional burlesque number, the ‘skirt dance’ (a dance which revealed parts of the body through manipulation of skirt fabric) which first got her noticed as a progressive performer of modern dance. Fuller, intrigued by the possibilities surrounding colour and shape, experimented with projecting various coloured gas lighting on to the yards of silk which she would artfully swirl whilst she danced. This became known as her ‘Serpentine Dance’ which she debuted in 1892. This created a marvellous effect with one review proclaiming, “unique, ethereal, delicious…she emerges from darkness, her airy evolutions now tinted blue and purple and crimson, and again the audience…insists upon seeing her pretty piquant face before they can believe that the lovely apparition is really a woman.”

Not only was Fuller a talented dancer and performer she was also an inventor and stage craft innovator. She held many patents for stage lighting which included the first use of phosphorescent salts to create lighting effects and also the first chemical mixes for gels and slides. In 1892 she moved to Paris and opened at the Folies-Bergère Music Hall with her “Fire-Dance” in which she danced on glass illuminated from below. She lived and worked mainly in Europe thereafter. Fuller was well respected within the French scientific community and was a close friend of Marie Curie. In 1908 Fuller set up her own dance school and company where she taught natural movement and improvisation techniques.

THE BIGGER PICTURE

About The Author

Avatar of Sophia
Assistant Curator

Sophia joined the Retronaut team as a researcher in 2014. After graduating from Liverpool in 2013 with a BA in Ancient History, she moved to London and now works at Bletchley Park as a volunteer archivist. From test shots of Lauren Bacall to space suits for dogs, working for Retronaut means that Sophia can keep exploring the moments where history, culture and photography collide.

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