Brad Wills' innovative photo project captures the breathtaking harmony of ballet

The award-winning Australian photographer, known for his conceptual and often surreal approach, casts ballet in a new light with his innovative new project, Swan Lake Meets Salt Lake.

When you're trying to get publicity for your photography project, no one has time to listen to a lot of waffle. So, it helps to have a pitch that's as brief as possible. Here's one that really grabbed us, with just a title that explains its central concept in five simple words.

'Swan Lake Meets Salt Lake' is a project by aerial photographer Brad Wills that brings together two unique worlds quite unexpectedly.

Conducted on the Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, in September 2022, the photoshoot involved Sasonah Huttenbach, a member of the New York City Ballet's Corp de Ballet, and was conducted solely from the air.

Fresh perspective

Deeply fascinated by the story of Swan Lake, Brad wanted to explore the light and dark aspects of humanity through art from an alternate perspective. So he chose a vast, barren salt lake as the location for the photo shoot, using shadows to convey different emotions. "Depending on your state of mind, your shadow could offer comfort or reflect a darker mood," he explains.

His aim with the project was to challenge conventional ballet photography norms and redirect the attention from the confines of the theatre to the outside world.

"While theatre ballet performances are undoubtedly breathtaking," he explains, "there exists a captivating harmony between the natural wonders of our world and the art of ballet; it's a seamless fusion."

Instant connection

Sasonah, who was raised between Tokyo and New York City, instantly connected with the idea the first time Brad pitched the concept.

"The white and black swans depicted on the salt reflected the inner conflicts that I've grappled with throughout my journey as a ballet dancer living between Japan and now the US," she explains.

"Ballet has given me structure and a form of expression I adore, but such discipline is a fight against my curiosity about the world".

As to why Brad used a single dancer to portray both the black and white swans from the ballet, he explains that "utilising different dancers would have diminished the poignant symmetrical struggle that I aimed to convey in my photography".

The series will feature in a coffee table book planned for 2024, along with other photoshoots from around the world, including the New York City Ballet, Australian Ballet and English National Ballet.


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