Susan Kempster & Jack Thomson on choreography within image-making

Photographer Jack Thomson and choreographer Susan Kempster have recently come together to work on Susan Kempster’s new project, MOTHER.

MOTHER is an intergenerational duet that invites the audience to question intimacy and who we are to each other. Focusing on topics including ageing and the bond between an older woman and younger male, the duet that explores the intimate physical connection that two very different bodies can create on stage.

MOTHER had its premiere at Sadler’s Wells’ Elixir Festival in April 2024 and has now embarked on a small national tour to venues in the UK.

A collaborator on the work, Jack Thomson collaborated with Susan Kempster on a series of photographs which as Jack Thomson highlights “speaks not only to the creative process, but also to the notion of choreography within image-making and honouring the materialism of both the body and photographs.”

Throughout this process many questions and personal challenges have come up around the topic of ageing, the imperfections of process, and how idea’s can transcend craft and medium. 

We sat down with Susan and Jack to find out more about the collaboration.

DAJ: How did this collaboration come about?

Susan: The photographer, Jack, was interested in the interplay between the bodies, and the layering of different relationships within the piece, and this led to the idea of the photography taking on a choreographic nature of its own. The composite images juxtapose elements of rehearsal and process and the spaces these happen in as well as illustrating multiple relationships in multifaceted images.

DAJ: Why utilise photography to capture the materiality of the body?

Jack: When I turned up in the space to photograph to the process, I could see the ideas, relationships and language developing. It was not work a finished, and some of the ideas were just breaking the surface and into the room. There were raw-edges, happy accidents and lots of unknowns at this stage.

Going away from the rehearsal studio, I was really enjoying the images, the expression of the dancers and general sense of movement. But somehow there was more to share from what I experienced in the room within the images I was creating. I spoke with Susan, about ‘having a play’, adding some of choreographic thinking and process-driven commitment in the studio. Her excitement about the idea really inspired me follow through with proposal.

I think the layering of different moments, trying to find connections within the bodies across images, and the visual handling of photographic material in the folds, finger marks and the unfinished compositions gives a materiality to not only the body but also the process of making. Each of these images is a collection of photographs and other objects composed and scanned into my computer. I really enjoy the scanner as photographic tool – it gives a distance to a photograph and opens another dimension. I feel the photograph becomes an object or a piece of documentation. 

Susan with the dancers.

DAJ: How do the photos capture the intimacy of two different bodies and what the bodies evoke or symbolise when together?

Susan: Photos capture a moment in time, yet within that there are remnants of what came before and hints to what’s coming next. The composite images in this photo series also give context as well as touching on the intimacy of the work. Sections of the choreography are by nature intimate, with the dancers interlinked and in close physical proximity to each other. Even when further apart there is some kind of direct connection. The hands are important, the arms, keeping hold, intertwining. Linking images the way Jack has done creates a parallel dialogue with the dance choreography.

Jack: When looking at the dancers in this series, there is not one image where they are not physically in contact with eachother. I think for the rehearsal they stayed in contact 90% of the time, perhaps by chance. Either way, I feel like they can be seen almost as one collective body, responding, supporting and negotiating itself. Sometimes doing it successfully other times not so much…

In the choreography there was mesmerising quality of not knowing where one bodily movement started or ended. I wanted to try a bring that choreographic idea to the images… The blurring of each of the dancers… and the moment where they share something new together. I guess that’s the kind of intimacy I see taking place and reflected in this series.