Yana Toyber Explores Where Photography, Femininity, and Ballet Meet

July 20, 2018

Regarded by some, as arguably one of the last remaining, beautifully conservative art forms, the ballet. With all of its trappings that surround a fruitful relationship between the emotion expressed through movement and its players, the mere conduits for this expression. They grace the stage with poised plie and saute. Examples of the commanding positions of elegant rigor, that are as demanding of contemplative admiration, as any physical artwork elevated to artistic prominence.––William Lankford

Undoubtedly, each character portrayed, in essence, is the player who compels upon the role of a prominently commanding piece of art. These immediate burdens, demands, and sacrifices upon, “the ballerina” are in no wise less, because of its poised nature in movement and motion, but something which requires a type of austere dedication and focus. This sentiment moves in true concert, when considering a former ballerina who has for some years, transferred this mindset and discipline from practice room and stage, to stand and yes, sometimes still on her toes, behind the camera cropping a moment, or rather “the moment” to her zest.

New York photographer Yana Toyber’s female-centric and socially controversial images vex the constructs of femininity and continue to break through barriers via diverse forms of symbolism, in bondage and the elements of materialistic confines, obvious and implied, that society, even still, holds to anti-feminism.


The Ukranian-born artist first moved to New York at age two, where her career as an artist and dancer first began, with the "New York City Ballet". Later and continuing on, at the age of eleven she performed and attended, "The School of American Ballet", on scholarship and soon after, found and waltzed her way into photography. Yana’s images are both informative and tastefully provocative, adhering to the relevancy of the struggle between sacrifice and dedication, but in a type of bondage, for the sake of art, all while coexisting with its relevance to societal bondage as women. The luminosity and subtle softness that projects throughout Yana's Images are a testament to the requirements and discipline that one must obsess over, whether capturing movement or capturing a moment.

It's lastingly but a duality of feminist adoration combined with the universal concept of equality that is but, a scale of shadows that first began in a single room, where existed a traditional wood floor and single mount ballet barre.


William Lankford: Can you speak with me about the idea and general platform surrounding your images, specifically the symbolism behind the bondage polaroids. 
Yana Toyber: Well one of the reasons of why I put the two together, was because of my experience with ballet, which was my first introduction into art. I have this feeling that for me its very constrictive and a kind of very systematic ballet. There is however art involved, there is creativity involved of course, but to me it seems like a perfect marriage in the sense. For the project in general I wanted to show a different side of ballet, a more passionate side, a more emotional side. Which is more or less a side surrounding the training that no one really ever sees, and the amount of training that goes in, or how much you have to give up and the different variations of restrictions you have by being a dancer, there are so many restrictions not just diet restrictions. Essentially your whole life is surrounded by this art form.

Can tell you talk with me about the relationship between your polaroids and ballet as an art form and why you chose polaroids as a medium?
I've been shooting polaroids since I was a little girl, and since I can remember, I was always very comfortable with the medium, but also I think that there is a softness you know it's just a softer quality. For me when I think ballet and I think of the art form, the way that it looks and appears is very soft and fragile just like polaroids. As an artist I feel like everything should be open to the viewers perception, however I like to think of what it means to me and why I came up with the concept, and why I used certain mediums for it. It just makes sense to me on so many levels, but basically, I would like to use this medium and imagery to display a more emotional and deeper sense of the dancer the ballet as an art form. 


Your work can possibly be described as female-centric can you elaborate on that subject?
As a woman that's just how I perceive my life, and life in general. So to me its just how I see things with a female gaze and why I focus on a lot of female subject matter is because I really feel that we need to as a society and and as a woman that we need to work together more we need to figure and learn how to work better together and I like to display this which Is my life's work which is a mentality I like to follow.   

Can you tell me about your upcoming show?
Well actually, I'm going to be curating a show, and it's still in the works for somewhere around September more so geared toward curatorial projects. Moving forward I'm doing a group show in August, In Brooklyn with some of my sex worker images which is in the immediate future at  Lucas Lucas Gallery located in Brooklyn off of 57 Conselyea St. The opening is titled “Blood Money”. 

Interview by William Lankford