All images by Brad Walls. Used with permission. Want to submit to Photo Essays? Click here for the Guidelines.
Initially inspired by an image by Olive Cotton, “Teacup ballet”, Brad Walls began exploring the concept in early 2020, pinning ideas to a virtual inspiration board that consisted of shadows, shapes and tutus, stating that “Most people had seen Ballet photographed traditionally… and while those photos are undeniably beautiful, I wanted to rewrite the composition, purely focusing on the unique shapes and shadows of the art form.” Offering an alternate view is the foundation of Walls’ work; however, he also innately knew that “ballerine de l’air” would be a gallery-worthy body of work. “I had photographed people from above – including Olympians and models – and while those shots were very compelling, I knew here that combining such a prestigious art form with an alternate view would truly be the embodiment of my work,” says Walls.
He contacted Montana Rubin, a member of the corps de ballet (body of the ballet) within the prestigious Australian Ballet. Because of the pandemic, Rubin was not currently performing on stage, nor working as usual with the Ballet, and thus she took no convincing to shoot with Walls, saying “With his clean aesthetic and attention to detail, I was excited to see how our worlds could mesh,” and later additionally commenting that: “Brad’s unique viewpoint also gave me an opportunity to see my art form quite literally from a different perspective.”
Walls chose two contrasting locations to shoot in – the first being a warehouse featuring barren concrete floors, contrasting against the Ballerinas’ soft movements, and the second being a private event space with picturesque floor tiling, complementing the visual aesthetic of Rubins’ Tutu. Together in this collaboration, Walls and Rubin explore traditional ballet positions, as well experiment with non-traditional shapes, specially-tailored for the ‘view from above’. “It was imperative to pay homage to the art of Ballet, whilst at the same time adding a new, modern spin which incorporated positions and shapes that were beyond the traditional art form,” Walls explains. He goes on to share a specific anecdote from the shoot, in which he asked Rubin to ‘play’ with the shadow created by her movements via the light, recalling that “Watching an artist (Rubin) truly lose herself in her art form was truly a spine-tingling moment and a moment that a photographer can end up waiting many years to experience – if they get to experience it at all.”
Walls recently released his ‘pools from above’ series at the end of July, garnering him and his work worldwide attention. He was also most recently awarded First Prize in the Sport category and Runner up in people category at the inaugural 2020 Aerial Photography Awards in Paris, France, and placed as Runner-Up at the Drone Photo Art Awards 2020 in Siena, Italy.
Why did you get into photography?
Brad Walls: My mum had a camera around the house which I occasionally played with, but nothing serious happened until I bought the DJI Mavic Pro at the end of 2017. I also found myself experimenting with the post-production side of photography and design using Lightroom and Photoshop and even dipped my toes into 3D CAD software.
What photographers are your biggest influences? How did they affect who you are and how you create?
Brad Walls: My biggest influences are Slim Aarons for his use of color, Maria Svarbova for her strong emphasis on symmetry and lines, Costas Spathis on his use of negative space.
How long have you been shooting? How do you feel you’ve evolved since you started?
Brad Walls: I first picked up a semi-professional drone 2 years ago to document my travels around southeast Asia. 18 months on I have refined my aesthetic constantly experimenting with various subject matter.
Tell us about your photographic identity. You know you as a person have an identity that fundamentally makes you who you are. Tell us about that as a photographer.
Brad Walls: I like to think that my identity as a photographer is solidified by my willingness to take new challenges via alternative subject matter for aerial photography. I’ve always been pushing the buck forward the aerial discipline and I hope that is what others see as well.
Tell us about the gear that you’re using. Please give us a list with reasons why you choose it. Please be descriptive. We want to know how it helps you translate your creative vision.
Brad Walls: I use the DJI Mavic 2 pro and occasionally I use the Lume Cube lighting attachments. Post-production is in Lightroom and Photoshop.
Natural light or artificial light? Why?
Brad Walls: Natural Light. Given I work with a drone, at this stage outside is just easier to work outside.
Why is photography and shooting so important to you?
Brad Walls: I love to have a creative voice, it’s what drives me out of bed in the morning. To create something novel is as close I can get to a sense of fulfillment.
Do you feel that you’re more of a creator or a documenter? Why? How does the gear help you do this?
Brad Walls: Both, but I would say I am majorly a Creator, as my shoots are quite curated as I am shooting for a certain brief that I create prior to the shoot.
What’s typically going through your mind when you create images? Tell us about your processes both mentally and mechanically? Please walk us through your processing techniques?
Brad Walls: Generally it goes Lightroom > Photoshop > Lightroom. I give a base edit to all my images to start and then take it to photoshop for all the finer details and back to to Lightroom for the final touches.
What made you want to get into your genre?
Brad Walls: I felt there was a unique place for an artistic touch for aerial photography, which was missing in the photography discipline.