Spying on the Boys

Photojournalist Emily Macinnes recounts the moment she stumbled upon this scene in a Colombian ballet school, and explains how every element came together in one perfect frame.

© Emily Macinnes, from the series Another Colombia

I had travelled to Colombia to work on a story for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) about the psychological impact of the civil war on women in the southern region of Caquetá. My Colombian friends painted a far greater and more colourful picture of their homeland than was being presented to me in the mainstream media, so I decided to stay longer to explore and absorb a country that had long fascinated me.

When I arrived in Bogotá I began researching stories that would illustrate other sides of contemporary Colombian culture. I stumbled across the El Instituto Colombiano de Ballet Clásico Incolballet on the outskirts of Santiago de Cali in southwest Colombia. The school is the only one dedicated to ballet and folklore dancing in the country, and students travel from all over to train and study there.

I went to the school with the aim of focusing on the boy ballet dancers’ stories as a way of challenging the one-dimensional narrative of the violent, young Colombian male that has been glamourised by Hollywood and perpetuated through the mainstream media. On my first day I saw a group of girls peering through the window of one of the buildings, watching the older boys rehearse. The small, dark space in which the girls were huddled wasn’t working visually, but the moment stayed with me. It captured the flirtatious atmosphere and young love that was overtly present at the school and spoke of the deep admiration the girls had for the senior ballet dancers. 

After a couple of days of bouncing between classrooms, photographing both the intense moments during hot, humid rehearsals and the quieter moments while students sat in circles on the grass eating lunch, I again spotted a group of girls peering into the classroom, laughing and giggling as they watched the boys rehearse. This time the four girls, dressed in traditional folklore costumes, stood side-by-side and appeared to be levitating on a bench outside the window. They were beautifully positioned – as if someone had carefully placed each one of them there. For a few minutes they barely moved, and were transfixed by the boys dancing inside.

Unusually for me, I took just one frame. Due to the stillness of the moment I didn’t need to work the situation in any way. A concerto by Tchaikovsky played out from a nearby classroom and the early evening light filtered through the trees creating a mottled pattern on the wall where the girls stood. It was all there just waiting for me to take the picture.

This image is from a story that is part of a larger, ongoing body of work called Another Colombia where I continue to explore the many facets of Colombian culture that are not widely represented in the media. I am a strong believer in the power of positive storytelling and our responsibility as journalists to report, in equal measure, the constructive, inspirational stories as well as the bleak and dramatic. 

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To see more work by Emily Macinnes, visit her PHmuseum profile.

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