Jacqueline Zilberberg, a Venezuelan Jewish photographer, whose own country was in free fall, took to the streets of New York City to reinvent herself and her art during the Pandemic. Forging a kinship with artists in another medium, she aimed her lens and her focus on dancers digging deep to reinvent themselves and their art when shut out of their studios and performance spaces. The project involved hundreds of hours of conversation with dancers, networking in her new city, scouting for locations. You can see more of the photos and the dancers’ own intensely personal descriptions of their renewed relationships to their bodies and their art form on https://www.instagram.com/jacquelinezilberberg/?hl=en
In her own words, and photos, here is the story behind Zilberberg’s Lifting Up project, which remains a work in progress.
In the ongoing project that I started during the pandemic, I work with New York City dancers in urban public spaces. The photographs of dance improvisations, accompanied by the dancers’ own words, trace the resuscitation of the dancers and their practice when, in the absence of colleagues and audiences, they reinvented their relation to their bodies and to the discipline of dance. The project, “Lifting Up,” consists of images of unregulated vibrant small-scale human beings giving birth to themselves within sometimes permissive, sometimes overbearing public spaces. The dancers are soaring, cramped, tormented, jubilant, self-involved, tender, curious. In urban, often rough, spaces, that don’t easily shelter or cradle a human being, these dancers jump out as alive, “there,” present, fully aware, complex, full of intelligence and desire. The work celebrates the unscripted and intensely personal act of self-invention. The city takes on a full range of “faces” and the dancers display their unique responses to the city in which they live.
The act of becoming free involves vulnerability. One has to learn to be free. The restrictive and isolating conditions of the pandemic thrust the dancers into a more solitary form of self-discovery, intensifying their expressions of vulnerability, struggle and exhilaration.
My own sense of isolation in this period—I finally became documented to work but was unable, because of the pandemic, to find enough work—meant that I grabbed hold of these dancers’ struggles and triumphs as if they spoke my story. During the Pandemic, we were all thrown back more on ourselves; without outside validation, we each had to decide that our art was of value.
With this project, I almost feel like a secret collaborator, partially rescued and reinvented by the subjects of my photographs. Even though their rupture of the expected human postures must be merely temporary, the liberation is real, is a fact, and my photograph enables that fact to endure beyond the moment.