Remembering Weiferd Watts

By Greta Schoenberg

November 1, 2010, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE

PHOTOGRAPHER WEIFERD WATTS, a prolific dance photographer and my good friend of 11 years, passed away October 10, 2010 after a sudden heart attack.

For over 25 years Weiferd captured an incredible array of dancers from the Bay Area, New York, and abroad. Removed from the traditional setting of the stage, the intimate portraits he created required the eye of a choreographer. Without any dance training, he would contort his body in an attempt to demonstrate his visions for movement, which were then interpreted by his subjects, yielding extraordinary results.

I am truly grateful to Weiferd as my first teacher of dance for the camera. I nearly missed the opportunity. He first approached me on his bicycle in a parking lot near Oak and Franklin (SF) in 1999. In a dirty sweatshirt with a wild mane of hair, he rode up and flashed his signature missing front tooth. He said he’d just been watching me in my ballet class and wanted to photograph me. In the days before Google, I nearly threw his card away until I saw some of his stunning photographs at a local dance studio. I now feel so honored to have become one of his many subjects. For nearly a decade I gladly climbed trees, rolled in sand, floated calmly in December lakes, frolicked in Northern California seas, and once jumped more than 80 times in bare feet on unstable rocks at the top of a hill. In return I have some very special images and learned about lighting and composition through our varied and always lighthearted experiments.

In 2000, I was inspired by Weiferd’s already impressive body of work to produce my first dance-for-camera event, a solo show of his work, which launched me onto a new path toward becoming a curator. I began to create video work of my own, following his lead by taking dancers into unusual terrain and creating narratives around improvised situations.

Weiferd’s work captured the fleeting presence of a generation of dancers and documented a fascinating collaborative process between two disciplines. Dance and photography were his passions and both fields will mourn his early loss for years to come. Enjoy what he left behind,

This article appeared in the November 2010 issue of In Dance.

Greta Schoenberg is the founding director of the San Francisco Dance Film Festival. Her self-produced video projects have been screened throughout the Bay Area and abroad.