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"Tea Dance: Elaine Constantine"
2002-09-12 until 2002-10-19
DELUXE-ARTS Gallery and Creative Space
London, , UK United Kingdom

Elaine Constantine has become well known for her aspirational photo shoots of energised young women on the pages of The Face, Vogue and in radical advertising campaigns. Propelled into the London style scene by her passion for vernacular dance culture, she began her career by making photographs on the London club scene: "I think I am at the point of obsession in trying to articulate in photography my own dance floor experience."

In 2002, Elaine Constantine moved away from the photography of youth culture to make a remarkable series of photographs about tea dances in the north west of England. In 'Tea Dance', she has made a series of photographs in which the elderly dancers are stilled in motion, figures in severe tableaux, the participants engaged in some ancient and melancholic ritual. By stilling the dancers so rigorously, Constantine has noted the ability of photography to still the moment, to preserve a memory. Emerging from the shadows, performing the perfect dance movement, hands locked and clothes swirling, the people in the photographs emerge as statues or ghosts, star performers in a melancholic comedy of manners. Like some grave chorus of elders, these dancers are present not only to defy time, but also to memorialise it.

Elaine Constantine has been working as a fashion and documentary photographer since the early 1990s. Her work has been published extensively in British, European and American magazines, including The Face and Vogue. Series such as Mosh (1997) and Sarf Coastin' (1997) altered the face of fashion photography, challenging grunge style and creating a new, aspirational and energetic fashion documentary. As a dedicated follower of Northern Soul, Elaine Constantine has been photographing dance culture for over a decade and has brought the energy and choreographics of club dance into the fashion and editorial photography she has made over the last ten years. In her photography, and in the music videos which she is now frequently commissioned to make, she has developed a narrative form which departs radically from the norm, constructing authentic scenarios and dynamic tableaux.

Tea Dance is a series of large-scale colour photographs made in Manchester, centring on a group of elderly amateur dancers. Though these photographs could be seen as a refutation of everything which fashion photographs represent - youth, glamour and beauty - they are suffused with both melancholy and desire. Photographers have always been fascinated by the fantastical world of the ballroom, where a mannered code disguises a multitude of dreams and desires. Photographs of people dancing together, lost in private worlds in a public place appear throughout the history of modern photography, from the demi-monde of 20s Paris to the post-war chronicles of rock and roll. In this new work, Elaine Constantine has made a significant contribution to one of photography's great themes.

Elaine Constantine's book Tea Dance accompanies the exhibition, and contains an essay by Val Williams, author of Martin Parr (Phaidon 2002). She is also Research Fellow at the London College of Printing and the London College of Fashion.


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