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Philip Trager Suspends Time

Philip Trager has spent his life photographing two seemingly disparate subjects: architecture and dancers. In his latest exhibit, Form and Movement at The Building Museum in D.C., the two bodies of work appear side by side.

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Positioned in this way, parallels emerge between the structure of chiseled dancers and concrete walls, shadows on faces and staircases.

"Considering buildings and bodies side by side, we are invited to see the organic in what we build and the structural in who we are," the show's curator explains.

The exhibit evokes the peculiar feeling that the world has been frozen by a futuristic time-stopper. Dancers are suspended in midair, cityscapes are free of any signs of life.

"I've always had the feeling that the presence of people would interfere with my feeling of the building," Trager says, explaining his compartmentalized approach over the phone.

Likewise, when photographing dancers, he removes distractions by taking them far away from stages and by capturing them — as he does buildings — in natural light.

Trager never expected to make a living from photography. He started out as a lawyer. Even as he became well-known for his architectural photography in the 1970s and '80s, he spent his days in an office.

"Making a living from fine art photography was virtually impossible back then ... the prices were much lower," he says.

These days, he has moved from black-and-white film to digital color. We can look forward to a very different sort of exhibit from him, he says, a few years down the line.

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