Andrew Bowen is a dance photographer based in Greensboro, NC. He partners with student, pre-professional, and professional dancers to portray their talents and artistry through photography. What started as a unique opportunity quickly became one of his greatest passions in life.
Andrew started his photography business specializing in family and senior portraits. During a session with a senior dance student, the student wanted photos depicting her dancing. He found it challenging to capture a captivating image that did her technique and form justice. He left the session unsatisfied but determined to master dance photography.
Andrew spent the next few years researching dance photography and seeking mentorship from experts across the country. He excelled in several workshops and began seeking out local dancers. Greensboro Ballet agreed to work with him to develop new marketing material and additional imagery for the company dancers. While working with professional dancers, he gained a better understanding unique of needs of dancers, which helped define what was to be his role as the photographer.
As he built more relationships with the dancers and heard stories of negative experiences dancers had with photographers and others in the dance industry, he realized his immense responsibility as the dance photographer. Each dancer faces challenges; he did not want his photography to be another.
“There are so many forces that make a dancer feel less than,” Andrew says. “The dancer and their art are inextricably bound. It’s hard to differentiate themselves from the performance, especially if they’re looking at a bad photo. My job is finding the right lighting, coaching them, and crafting an aesthetic to fit that individual.”
An energized Andrew found himself stopped cold in March 2020 with the onset of the pandemic. He continued to learn remotely until local restrictions were lifted. Once Andrew could grab his equipment and safely reopen his studio, he reached out to dancers he had worked with previously and asked if they wanted to take some photos at the studio for pure fun. The dancers were thrilled at his offer and happy to be back. The gratitude from the dancers inspired Andrew to take dance photography a step further by launching “The Creative Dance Retreat.”
“The Creative Dance Retreat is so much more than a photo shoot,” says Andrew. “Each session is all about the dancer. They have a story, and I’m there to help them tell it.” Andrew strives to uplift all the dancers portrayed in his photography; he never retouches the dancer’s body and only publishes photos where the dancer is satisfied.
Challenging his own photographic skills, Andrew submitted four photos to the International Photographic Competition, a juried photography competition run by Professional Photographers of America. His set of four images all received the highest rating out of thousands of submissions, which earned him the status of a Diamond Photographer for 2023. One of the images was also singled out as a finalist in the Grand Imaging Awards for best photography across all the submissions. He was happy to elevate the dancers in their most authentic way in the national spotlight.
After reopening his studio in late 2020, he found a unique story to be told. Dancers were still not permitted to rehearse and perform due to the pandemic, and they were forced to practice in their homes and backyards, waiting for the world to open.
“I remember a dance student telling me she didn’t feel like a dancer anymore because she wasn’t performing. I had never felt like I was any less of a photographer because I took a break from shooting,” says Andrew when asked about his project, “Stage…Interrupted.” To share the untold story of dancers in the pandemic, he asked some of the high school dancers he had worked with to submit their stories and how they were coping with the impact of the pandemic on their dance careers. The dancers sent him their heartfelt stories, and with a grand from ArtsGreensboro and NC Arts Council, he published the series on his website.
While the start of the pandemic was over three years ago, the stories told by the dancers are still powerful. Because of the great response from the community, Andrew is working to continue this series with the different challenges dancers face in their careers. While he loves his role as a photographer, working with dancers is what truly inspires him to create.