Renata Pavam hung up her pointe shoes earlier this summer, after a memorable twelve-year career at American Ballet Theatre, but the ballerina in her continues to blossom in her stunning photography.

Brazilian by birth, Pavam trained with the great Cuban ballerina Ofelia Gonzalez and later at the Jeune Ballet de France in Paris, winning medals at several international dance competitions before joining ABT. She will never forget her first Swan Lake Act II entrance with the swan corps, that implacable force that is the true heart of the ballet: “so powerful.”

Injury started to take a toll on her performing career, but Renata’s passion for photography intensified. When I caught up with the company on tour in Barcelona last year, it was delightful to watch her rehearse a scene on stage at the historic and glamorous Gran Teatre del Liceu, then hop off stage into the orchestra, where she had set her camera on a tripod, and fire away at her dancing colleagues. Moments later she’d be back in the wings, ready for her next entrance. Backstage, she was almost never without a camera in hand, her lightning reflexes and unerring eye capturing those moments when the dancers were deeply engaged in their rituals of preparation.

“As dancers, we are trained to look at every detail, to be perfectionists. To look at the form, see what looks beautiful and what doesn't. And be able to repeat it a hundred times! That's what I bring to photography – the discipline, the persistence, and the eye. I'm only happy when I get something beautiful or inspiring. I know it’s rare when that happens…Though of course it’s all very subjective. What I think is beautiful, someone else might not… I love beautiful lighting, and catching a dancer in the midst of an emotion. Sometimes you catch a dancer at a bad moment, or a bad angle, or the look is frozen. I believe you need years of experience, or being a dancer yourself, to understand what works in a photograph. Sometimes I see photos out there that I know do not portray dance the way it is supposed to be looked at. And I know the dancer will not be happy with it! Unfortunately, it happens a lot – especially in newspapers.”

As a dancer, she was inspired by several dancers, from whom she tried to emulate “little bits of what I liked”: Julie Kent, Alessandra Ferri, Natalia Makarova, Sylvie Guillem, Isabelle Guerin.

As a photographer, she loves the work of Steven Meisel, Michael Schulz, Richard Avedon, among others. And Rosalie O’Connor, whose dance photography inspired her to start aiming the lens at her fellow dancers.

Today, Renata is busy fielding new photography commissions, and especially treasures the opportunities that bring her back to the stage, the studios and the dressing rooms, to that rarefied world where she was once one of the magic-makers, and is still one of the magic documenters.