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David Michalek

Updated: Dec 26, 2023

Moving from the ethereality of ballet to the psychodrama of B&D, David Michalek fleshes out the beauty lying beneath the surface.

LA-based photographer, David Michalek, is no stranger to radical changes of direction. He came to photography eight years ago after abandoning plans to become first a priest, then a biomedical illustrator. Yet he seems unable to escape either the body or Catholicism, for his photographs of ballet dancers have an undeniable atmosphere of visceral ritualism.

Michalek's taste for the corporeal adds a pleasingly gritty element to the ethereal beauty of many of his pictures. His studies in biology and illustration fleshed out his quest to, "Always try to look beneath the surface, to feel the viscera, the skin poking through," as he says.

Michalek came originally to shooting ballet dancers, not for their pretty exterior, but for the eroticism that underpins the beauty of their form and movement. His dancers are not telling us about dance; rather, they speak of passions, both dark and ecstatic.

An exploration of the erotic drive was also the reasoning behind Michalek's latest choice of photographic subjects. While in Sydney recently he spent nine days photographing mistresses at a B&D parlour and discovered that the difference between his dancers and his mistresses was less than he originally imagined. "I didn't want to make the ballet pictures pretty, but I also didn't want to make the dungeon stuff nightmarish," he says.

The thread that binds these two seemingly disparate groups is the joy that both dancers and mistresses take in the open appreciation of the body. "Mistressing is intense psychological theatre," observes Michalek.

"They would be doing extreme things, like a golden shower for example, and the dangerous thing about it was not that someone was getting peed on, but that it was so natural and so joyful. They were bodies doing sex and having a good time doing it."

Michalek is a great believer in "good accidents" when it comes to photography, asserting that if you come to the right environment with a good attitude, they will happen. Likewise, he favours a spontaneous process when working, disinclined to getting bogged down in technique. "What it really comes down to is compassion, getting people to relax and show something special."

Almost a decade on, Michalek is finding success both artistically and commercially and feels he is growing as an artist; moving most recently into film.

"It's taken me a few years to internalise the process," he says, "but I feel that the visual tropes that I've borrowed have gone and now I have my own. Now I feel that there is something there that is mine."

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