I found in film long ago that setting an exposure for mid-day light and shadows was relatively easy without a light meter.  I also found the really low light and indoor light was a big challenge without a light meter.  In today’s digital world, the LCD tells me quickly if I metered correctly in low light situations.  The balance of keeping shadow detail and not blowing out the highlights remains that same as it always has.  So, if you are up for a real challenge, photograph a dance, a show or some other low light event using a camera without an LCD to check your work.  Using the Leica MD Type 262 I was able to capture a Flamenco performance in Madrid, Spain with folks that learned Flamenco from their parents at a young age.  With only the average field light meter inside the Leica MD, I set exposures much like I would with film.  I bracketed back and forth adjusting the f/stop on the APO Summicron 50mm.  Adding to the challenge, the white spotlights turned on and off with the red spotlights constantly on.  The dancers moved in and out of both types of light.  The resulting images included some exposed just right and many with blown out reds and some with blown highlights.  With all that challenge, I obtained what I wanted.  Below is the story of Flamenco as I learned from from my friend in Madrid, performed at the Cardamomo Tablao Flamenco in Madrid, Spain, September 2016.

Kelian Jiménez begins his performance with palmos

Kelian Jiménez begins his performance with palmos

Flamenco is an extremely complex art form from some very specific regions of Spain. While the most authentic performances are from the Spanish born, the roots of Flamenco are not necessarily people of Spanish origin. Flamenco is made up of cante, toque, baile, jaleo, palmas, and pitos (singing, guitar playing, dancing, vocalizing, clapping and finger snapping). But the meaning behind this mixture is much more than meets the eyes.

Kelian Jiménez stamps his feet shaking the floor

Kelian Jiménez stamps his feet shaking the floor

Flamenco is in the details. Flamenco is in some ways very similar to the blues or jazz. Flamenco has over 50 different styles, or palos. Each of these styles has rules that must be followed. When a group of dancers, musicians and singers get together, they agree on the style to be performed. Then the magic begins. Other than the style rules, improvisation is what separates the performances. While some parts of the Flamenco may be rehearsed, like a good blues or jazz musician, the rest is improvised with the mood.

Saray La Pitita feeling the moment

Saray La Pitita feeling the moment

Flamenco evolved from the Romani of Spain, many of whom were from India and migrated, possibly as early as 600 A.D. As their migration moved through the Ottoman Empire, or Turkey, and eventually into Spain, these Romani were not readily accepted. The Romani were labeled “Gypsies” because they were thought to have arrived from Egypt. They stayed in groups and lived off the land, roving between cities and towns. Work was hard to come by and life was not easy. This understanding of their people’s hardship and history was passed down through generations. A true Flamenco dance comes from these roots and for someone experienced, lesser forms of Flamenco are obvious.

Auxi Fernández clapping with musicians (palmos)

Auxi Fernández clapping with musicians (palmos)

The music starts, sometimes with a simple snapping of the fingers or tapping on a table, and builds. Clapping emerges and takes on not only the rhythm, but the soul of the Flamenco. Then song begins, although the song may sound more like a chant. The chant builds and swells to the heavens and comes back to earth. The dancers build with the music and the singing. Soon the procession becomes one instead of separate components – all swell and ebb together. The motion blurs before your eyes and the sounds envelope you.

Kelian Jiménez and Paloma Fantova tapping the table just getting started

Kelian Jiménez and Paloma Fantova tapping the table just getting started

You will certainly hear ‘Ole’ during the performance. Flamenco dancers and musicians feed on each other’s energy. When one of the dancers does something just right, you will hear one of their own call out ‘Ole.’ This spurs further fury in the moment.

Auxi Fernández in full swing, one with the music

Auxi Fernández in full swing, one with the music

The frenzy builds and climaxes until all just stop. Sometimes stopping does not mean finished, however. A twitch in the fingers of the dancer may just mean a very quiet pitos begins and the snapping builds again to a crescendo of even greater height.

Paloma Fantova guiding the musicians to play what she feels

Paloma Fantova guiding the musicians to play what she feels

During this progression, the expressions on the Flamenco dancers will change. They are reflective of the feeling they are trying to convey – the story. Like the blues, the story may have dark undertones. The expressions on the Flamenco dancer’s faces show these dark undertones to match the other components.

Saray La Pitita stomping her feet too fast to see

Saray La Pitita tapping her feet too fast to see

The stories to be told here are often those of hardship – the same hardship experienced by the Romani. Watch the faces of the dancers. Watch the intent and the furled brow. Watch the expression in their mouth and while they may not let out any sound, you can hear the wail. Flamenco is the blues on steroids.

Auxi Fernández uses a blanket to extend her emotion

Auxi Fernández uses a blanket to extend her emotion

Like a Shakespearean play, there are scene changes and Flamenco dancers leave the stage or are joined by another. The story continues until there is not more to be said for the night. The stomping in rhythm, the turning and twisting using clothing to extend reach and provide more substance, the Flamenco uses everything available to convey the story.

Auxi Fernández pauses momentarily in her story

Auxi Fernández pauses momentarily in her story

And just like that – it ends. No warning and no winding down. The story stops. It is finished until another night when the mood strikes just right. This is Flamenco.

About The Author

David taught film photography and development for 3 years at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1989-1991). He began using Leica cameras in 2000 and still shoots 70-100 rolls of film through a Leica M3 and Leica MA while enjoying the challenges of the Leica Monochrom and the new Leica MD 262. David has written about photography and is working on several volumes documenting changes and artistic merit throughout Old Town in Rock Hill, South Carolina, USA. His full-time job is as a CPA, but spends free time with a camera at the ready.

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