Dance and photography converge on war-torn Laos “Dis/Re-member”

At dusk, against the rapidly fading light of the sky, the Art Produce gallery’s floor-to-ceiling windows gleam practically from the University Avenue sidewalk in North Park.

Inside, larger-than-life photographs adorn the walls closest to the windows. Shown is a single dancer, captured by photographer Doug McMinimy, performing a recent work of choreography by local Khamla Somphanh. Closer to the front windows, two near-mirror images of the dancer – Lauren Christie – are placed directly opposite each other, one with her eyes open, the other closed.

Somphanh’s choreography is about his home country, Laos, and the fact that Laos is the most bombed nation per capita in the world.

The statistics are astonishing: in the 1960s and 1970s, during a CIA mission in Laos in the middle of the Vietnam War, some two million tons of explosives were dropped on the small nation. Only one percent of those bombs exploded, and 80 million failed to explode, in fact landmines scattered across the tiny country.

Doug McMinimy

Doug McMinimy’s photographs capturing Khamla Somphanh’s dance, “Purposely Accidental,” are on display at Art Produce until January 29, 2022 in a new exhibition, “Dis/Re-member.”

Somphanh was commissioned to create a piece for the San Diego Dance Theater — but given the pandemic, it made more sense to choreograph a piece for a solo dancer. She also couldn’t imagine working on a frivolous play and felt compelled to tell the story of Laos.

“Former President Trump was our president at the time, and one of the first things he did when he took office was to scrap the initiatives that President Obama had instilled in the country of Laos.” , Somphanh said. “It was heavy for me. And it had also been heavy because I hadn’t been able to see my parents [in Laos]. I worried about them.”

Somphanh said the bombs are undeniable and part of daily life in Laos – in their ubiquity across the landscape, but also in their ongoing tragedies.

The choreographed work, “Purposely Accidental,” debuted in a virtual production in November 2020, and was also performed in person at an outdoor Liberty Station showcase last spring. The virtual performance is no longer viewable online, so for now – until future performances are scheduled – a collection of photographs in a small art gallery is the only way to experience the work.

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Doug McMinimy

Doug McMinimy’s exhibit is currently on view at Art Produce through January 29, 2022 and can be viewed indoors by appointment or outdoors from the sidewalk anytime.

Eight images – printed on durable, adhesive-backed vinyl by local printer John Mireles – are laid out on the floor in a glued grid.

“[It’s] an allusion to a grid you would make in a field when trying to clear it,” said photographer Doug McMinimy.

The images also provide a perspective that audiences might not otherwise have had during a performance – both up close and from above.

“By placing the photos on the ground, I also wanted to give us the faintest echoes of that anxiety, that you’re suddenly very aware of where you’re walking,” McMinimy said.

As he worked with the footage after filming, he realized there was another chilling meaning he hadn’t intended: “As I started to look at them and working with them, I realized that it was an overview of the individual. McMinimy said.


Doug McMinimy

From “Dis/Re-member” by Doug McMinimy, based on the choreography “Purposely Accidental” by Khamla Somphanh, on view at Art Produce until January 29, 2022.

McMinimy found Somphanh’s choreography deeply meaningful, but also, more than any other performance he had photographed as a professional photographer, this piece lent itself particularly well to static images.

“There was something about the very strong gestural material of dance that isolates itself so well in a still image,” McMinimy said. “Certain dances, like pirouettes for example – I’ve photographed a lot of pirouettes – I rarely find them very compelling as stills. They’re very compelling as movement. So you have to find those things that translate into still photography.”

Initially, McMinimy said he wanted to capture Somphanh’s work in chronological order, start to finish. But the more he worked with the footage – and the more time passed from the day he was shooting the performance – the story took on a new shape.

“Images impose their own logic,” McMinimy said.

The title of the exhibition refers both to the meaning of Somphanh’s dance as well as to the act of deconstruction and reconstruction of a choreography from fixed images. However, the exhibition seems far from static. McMinimy’s photography, Somphanh’s creativity and the expressive gestures of dancer Christie seem to vibrate with momentum.


Doug McMinimy

Dancer Lauren Christie is pictured performing Khamla Somphanh’s choreography. This is one of eight floor-applied images in the gallery, on display at Art Produce until January 29, 2022.

McMinimy took a circuitous route to get to the opening of this particular exhibit. Initially a dancer, he eventually turned to photography after mainly quitting dancing to work and raise a family. At the time, he lived in rural Maine and developed his passion for nature photography while walking his dogs near Acadia National Park.

It wasn’t until he moved to San Diego that he began to branch out into documenting dance performance.

“The flora is totally different here. The light is totally different here. None of that really worked with me, and I was like, ‘What am I going to do with my photography?’ And I realized that I didn’t have any decent pictures of myself when I was dancing, and maybe that’s what I should do for other people. That’s when I decided to make myself a dance photographer,” McMinimy said. “Dance photography is a kind of homecoming.”

McMinimy shot the performance when the San Diego Dance Theater produced the piece outdoors, then collaborated with dancer Lauren Christie and Somphanh on a separate shoot, specifically for this project.

A choreographer is no stranger to passing on a personal, creative product to another artist – the relationship between choreographer and dancer is essentially transactional. The audience adds additional layers of interpretation.

“I think in the creative process, we have to trust what and how things come out. We can have an approach, but it’s part of what we do because the art is alive,” Somphanh said.

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Doug McMinimy

Choreographer Khamla Somphanh is shown in an undated photo.

Although the images can primarily be viewed from the sidewalk, making an appointment to view the artwork inside means visitors can stand in the middle of the ground photography and hear the dance soundtrack and the audio of a speech to the inhabitants of Vientiane, Laos by President Obama in 2016.

For now, the gallery, McMinimy, and Somphanh are still figuring out what programming or artist talks they can do – the exhibition opened without a reception due to concerns over the current surge of omicron. The exhibition will be on view until January 29.

Doug McMinimy: ‘Dis/Re-member’

Every week until January 29, 2022.
Sunday: 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Thursday: 2 p.m. – 6 p.m.
Friday: 2 p.m. – 6 p.m.
Saturday: 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.

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About the exhibition: Dis/Re-member is a dismemberment of Khamla Somphanh’s dance, Purposely Accidental. Doug McMinimy converts dance from a sequence of movements in space and time into a series of still photographs. These dance images have been selected and curated in this gallery as a re-inscription of dance in the form of a photographic art installation. Visible by appointment, Thursday and Friday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 11 p.m. to 5 p.m. by RSVP here. The exhibit is also viewable from the University Avenue sidewalk in North Park and is illuminated at night. Dance photography allows us to experience the power and beauty of dance in a non-traditional way, adding depth and complexity to the art form. Lost is the dimension and quality of movement. Instead, the fleeting gesture is suspended in time, allowing us to contemplate the fleeting gesture of the dancer. A wide-angle lens was primarily used for these images, allowing the photographer to work close to the dancer and the viewer to become immersed in the dance experience. About the artist: Douglas McMinimy is a San Diego-based photographer who works exclusively with dancers. He started dancing in his late teens and co-founded the modern dance group 456 Speed-Up in 1980. By the 2000s his ties to dance had faded. He started carrying a camera, photographing New England flora on daily dog ​​walks on Mount Desert Island, Maine. Photography facilitated his lavish return to dance in 2017. After moving to San Diego with his thriving dance community, he became determined to focus his creative efforts to photograph dance, especially in the studio, which allows for a relationship of collaboration between McMinimy and the dancers he photographs.Related links:Art ProduceArt Produce on InstagramArt Produce on Facebook

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