Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Birmingham Royal Ballet dancers bare all for CHECKUM

Birmingham Royal Ballet Principal dancers, real-life husband and wife, Gaylene Cummerfield & Matthew Lawrence
Photography throughout :  Ian Thraves

You've seen fabulous sculptures, where the subjects wore nothing but their Birthday Suit.  How about Michelangelo's David, a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture created in the early 1500's ? 

Birmingham Royal Ballet Principal dancer Iain Mackay

As part of Famousmales testicular cancer awareness campaign, photographer Ian Thraves worked with dancers from Birmingham Royal Ballet - real-life sculptures, if you like.

BRB's Simon Harper explains their involvement : "Birmingham Royal Ballet was approached by the 'Famousmales' Agency at the end of last year, the agency involved with leading on this campaign. I had a wonderful response from the male dancers with over 15 members of the company who said they would be very happy to help with such a worthy cause as the CHECKUM campaign. From the male Principal dancers to Artists who volunteered to take part, all were keen to help with the message behind the campaign; early detection of testicular cancer leads to medical help and support that in turn can lead to a positive outcome and a healthy future.

The agency involved picked four male dancers (an image of Kit Holder is still to be approved) and Gaylene Cummerfield and Matthew Lawrence suggested they be photographed together. Being husband and wife the agency liked their suggestion and so were keen for Gaylene to be included.

We hope the photographs will help attract the necessary attention that will lead to more men being less embarrassed about checking themselves or talking about testicular cancer, leading to a higher number of men seeking help should they think there is any abnormality."

To raise awareness of the disease and to highlight Ian's work, I asked him about the experience of shooting ballet dancers, and how it differs from his usual work.

Birmingham Royal Ballet Principal dancers Gaylene Cummerfield & Matthew Lawrence

Were you embarrassed?
Not at all; we’ve done so many of these now that we’re totally immune! Also, it’s quite something for someone to take their clothes off for you so it would be churlish to be embarrassed.

How did you put the dancers at ease?
Part of our open attitude towards nudity is hopefully a factor in putting our artists at ease; everyone is pretty much the same without their clothes and then it’s all really about getting the job done. To be honest, we’re so busy looking at the technical aspects, the pose and the facial expression that we almost forget that we’re doing a nude shoot!

What did you find difficult to capture?
The most difficult shoot of all was the Royal Ballet group, by far. I had to anticipate where the artist was going to end up and manually pre-focus and hope that my timing was spot on too. The guys were fantastic though as they were able to hit the same spot time and time again, making slight adjustments to their pose each time. Not only did they have to leap into the air in a particular pose, but they also had to throw their eyeline in a particular direction and to be aware of their facial expression too! It was unbelievable how they took all of our requests in their stride and were so nice about it.

Birmngham Royal Ballet Principal dancer Iain Mackay

Did you have to do a lot of post-editing?
Most of the images have the most basic post-editing done to them. This involves some sharpening and making them print ready. The camera that we’ve been using (Nikon D3x) has the most fantastic resolution and quality to it, that the images are almost ready to use straight after downloading.
There has, however, been some work done to the images after we deliver them to turn them into a graphic poster.

Birmingham Royal Ballet First Soloist Alexander Campbell

How does photographing dancers enhance the experience for you ?
It was such a privilege to see the guys perform in such close proximity. They had the most amazing skill and technical expertise and yet they made leaping through the air in a perfect ballet pose look incredibly easy. They also brought their own suggestions to the shoot which made the whole experience more exciting and fluid.

You can see Gaylene Cummerfield & Matthew Lawrence rehearsing Swan Lake here.

If you are worried about possible symptoms, please take heed of the advice given as part of the campaign, and visit your Doctor today.  You can also find more information here.


  1. I love this post! The photos are incredibly beautiful. Thanks so much for sharing this!

  2. This is just all sorts of wow and a great interview~

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  3. I'm impressed. Sounds like a great campaign.

  4. What power & beauty!

    Aloha from Waikiki

    Comfort Spiral

  5. It is shameful to think that we are so ashamed of this incredible work of art we propel through our world each day. Thanks for having the moxy fueled by your incredible passion for the dance to share this worth while campaign. May there be a special blessing for each talented soul involved in this. Sandi


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