What Leotard Can Compare to This?

As a boy of 8, Pari Dukovic would pick up his camera, a gift from his father, and explore his native Istanbul. He learned to station himself on the street corners, hoping for just the right light to show off the city at its most shimmering. Soon enough, he was turning his lens on people.

“I was looking at an unchoreographed scenario,” Mr. Dukovic said, “anticipating what would happen and reacting quickly to capture the person who entered the stage.”

We were chatting on Zoom, he from his studio near Hudson Yards in Manhattan. He wore a jauntily striped T-shirt, his self-described uniform, which popped against the white seamless backdrop covering much of the floor-to-ceiling wall books of behind him.

Mr. Dukovic, 39, moved to the United States in the early 2000s to pursue an undergraduate degree in art history and photography at the Rochester Institute of Technology. After graduation, he decamped for New York, fascinated by the city’s multiplicity of subcultures, which he documented as a freelance photographer in deliberately grainy images.

By the 2010s he had drawn the attention of leading periodicals, and at 28, he became the youngest staff photographer at The New Yorker. His vibrantly colorful portraits of Gayle King, Nancy Pelosi, Taylor Swift and their high-profile like have appeared on the cover of Time, and his images have also been featured in Vanity Fair, GQ, Rolling Stone and Esquire.

But it was only recently that Mr. Dukovic undertook what he described as one of his most challenging projects: photography for “New York City Ballet: Choreography & Couture,” a book coming out on Tuesday. It was conceived and produced by the City Ballet’s director of costumes, Marc Happel, to commemorate a decade of costumes worn at the company’s fall fashion galas.

The cover of “New York City Ballet: Choreography & Couture” shows the dancer Mimi Staker in a costume by Gareth Pugh.Credit…Pari Dukovic

The book’s 250 images showcase some 130 costumes by 29 fashion designers, including Valentino, Sarah Jane Burton for Alexander McQueen, Thom Browne and Virgil Abloh. Its cover photo, shot from atop a 12-foot ladder, shows the dancer Mimi Staker gyrating in a scarlet Gareth Pugh gown.

“The reference is from Istanbul,” Mr. Dukovic said. “It has the quality of a whirling dervish.”

Capturing that moment and others took months of exhaustive strategizing, he said. The book was planned in the midst of the pandemic and the photography had to be done in a scant six days. Mr. Dukovic, a fastidious planner, immediately began mapping out logistics on an Excel sheet.

“I had a lot to think about,” he said, rattling off a list of criteria. What colors would he need for the background? What is the direction of the shot? Which shots will be group shots?

“We were mid-Covid, so the dancers and choreographers suddenly had different and conflicting schedules,” he added.

Another complication: The costumes were in storage, leaving Mr. Dukovic no chance to study them up close.

India Bradley, left, a City Ballet dancer, and Mr. Knight in costumes by Iris van Herpen.Credit…Pari Dukovic
The City Ballet dancer Miriam Miller in a costume by Valentino.Credit…Pari Dukovic
Christopher Grant, left, and Mira Nadon, City Ballet dancers, in costumes by Virgil Abloh.Credit…Pari Dukovic

During the shoot, he became captivated by the craftsmanship of certain garments, including a costume by Iris van Herpen, a designer known for fusing elements of technology with couture techniques. “The architecture was mesmerizing,” Mr. Dukovic said.

Another costume by Palomo Spain had thousands of Swarovski crystals. “I wanted to feature their diamond-like quality,” he said.

“To me this whole shoot felt very much like a runway show,” Mr. Dukovic added.

He would know. About a dozen years ago, New York magazine commissioned Mr. Dukovic to cover the runways of New York, Paris and Milan.

Jody Quon, New York magazine’s director of photography, described Mr. Dukovic as hungry when she discovered him. “He could shoot anything that would be considered frankly mediocre and make a great photograph,” she said. “He would find the magic in the banal.”

For that job, he worked with a point-and-shoot camera, crouching along catwalks, venturing backstage and treating the assignment as he might street photography.

“I had 800 rolls of film,” Mr. Dukovic said, and he would process them in hotel bathrooms. “I was like a mad scientist.”

Working on the City Ballet book called for a similarly methodical approach, though his tools were more elaborate — and encumbering. He came to the set, a rehearsal space for the City Ballet, with a truck full of lights and gear. Packing light has never been his habit, he said.

“Every time we go on a photo shoot, I feel like we’re moving a New York City apartment,” Mr. Dukovic said.

Ms. Staker in a costume by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen.Credit…Pari Dukovic

“But if I hadn’t been so intentional and organized, if I had just shown up,” he added, “it would have been a completely different project.”

His life off the clock is as thoroughly considered.

Mr. Dukovic lives in Montclair, N.J., with his wife, Pinckney Templeton, a graphic designer; their 11-month-old daughter, Minoa; and a baby on the way. He and his wife started dating during the pandemic, decades after they met in college, where she helped him with his then-halting English.

“I believed that we were meant to be together,” Mr. Dukovic said. “But the stars were not aligning.”

During their courtship, which largely happened online because of Covid, Mr. Dukovic approached their dates with his signature deliberation. After he suggested that they cook together, they embarked on a series of virtual art-themed dinners.

“In one instance, I told her, ‘I have a Salvador Dalí cookbook in my library, let’s get inspired,’” he said. “I projected a Dalí painting as my background and I wore this amazing jacket that I made, embellished with surreally distorted eyes.”

As much as he likes to plan, Mr. Dukovic said, he leaves a bit of space for serendipity on and off the set. After marrying in 2020, he and his wife bought their house in Montclair sight unseen.

The decision required a leap of faith. But Mr. Dukovic was unfazed. “Everything happens for a reason,” he said.

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