Get to know the set and key art photographer of Canada’s Drag Race Season 2.
Meet Aleksandar Antonijevic. Aleksandar is an award-winning photographer who has worked with the likes of TV personality Traci Melchor, actor Thom Allison, dancer Jillian Vanstone and drag artist Brooke Lynn Hytes.
Aleksandar maintains an impressive resume, having been informed by his time spent in front of the lens as a principal dancer at the National Ballet of Canada. Throughout his work over the past few years, Aleksandar has also built relationships with artists across the country, in both the fine arts and commercial spaces, where he was most recently working on the set of Canada’s Drag Race, season 2, as the queens’ photographer. He was also on the set of the upcoming 1 Queen, 5 Queers.
Today, HOLR is sitting down to chat with the esteemed photographer to discuss his journey as a dancer turned photographer. He also dishes on some behind-the-scenes stories about what it was like capturing the queens and the “extra special guests.” Keep reading to find out more about Aleksander!
Talk to us about your journey and your experience as a dancer turned photographer.
Nearing the end of my career as a classical ballet dancer, having spent 25 years on stage as a performer, I started to get this feeling of panic and the need to figure out what my artistic voice would be in the future. Acting came into my mind, but English is not my first language and something deep inside was starting to crystallize about wanting to be the observer and creator, not a performer. Kinda weird when you think I spent so long in front of an audience, being looked at, judged, celebrated and incidentally photographed! I never quite felt comfortable in front of a camera. Too self-critical, obsessed with unattainable perfection like the rest of my fellow dancers.
Turning 40, on a whim I mentioned to my friends that I might try photography and they generously got me my first camera for my birthday — a Canon 5D Mark II. To say that from the first moment I felt I was in my element would be an understatement. It felt organic, it felt exciting, it felt “erotic” in the sense of being alive, present, intellectually stimulated and quite adamant about creating the best possible “moment” I could. Visually, aesthetically, technically but also wanting an authentic capture despite the manufactured setting of a shoot!
Today, looking back at the last decade of producing both fine art collections and commercial work, I think I have an objective overview of the first part of my career as a visual artist.
Having been a dancer sets me apart from others in the sense that I have the command of human expression and shape in space. I understand what it means to perform in front of a lens. I mean no matter who the subject is or the image I need to create it is a sort of performance. I try and create a safe and judgement-free environment where the subjects can relax and perhaps share a bit of themselves with me and my camera; when that happens I feel I am successful and my sitters see the images in a different light.
Certainly, I feel more myself behind the lens than I ever felt in front of it. Even as a child I always felt I was an observer of situations and people in general. I would notice the smallest of things and details and that has definitely helped me shape my voice as a photographer!
As an award-winning photographer, who are some of the notable individuals you have had the pleasure of working with throughout the years?
Over the years I have had the pleasure of photographing many notable people. Mostly in the performing world of ballet, theatre, opera and TV.
Starting with my artistic director at The National Ballet, Karen Kain, many many actors at SoulPepper and Crows Theatre, Measha Brueggergosman, an incredibly captivating opera diva, to Brooke Lynn Hytes, a performer extraordinaire and the host of Canada’s Drag Race, Salah Bachir one of the most generous philanthropists in Canada, Traci Melchor, our national host at Etalk and CTV to name a few.
Can you share some behind-the-scenes details about what it was like to be the queens’ photographer on the set of Canada’s Drag Race, Season 2?
I was thrilled to be asked to be the set and key art photographer for this exciting reality TV program. Even though I never shot anything like it, my experience of shooting live theatre did help tremendously. Similar to the stage, the photographer has no control over the lighting set up, as everything is lit for TV cameras and for movement, not necessarily stills. I tried to be very unobtrusive and hidden in a way so I wouldn’t interfere with real moments as they unfolded.
These queens are all very creative creatures, so it made my job pure joy. Such artistry with their make-up and costumes and a real feast for the eyes.
What I didn’t expect was how emotionally involved all of us behind the cameras would be. We laughed and we also cried at eliminations or hearing stories of struggle and hardships in relation to society’s acceptance of them. I wanted all of them to win, but that is not how it is set up… I feel very privileged to have witnessed and captured the moments of joy and the moments of heartbreak. Through the airing of the series, watching them all gain national attention and reach newfound levels of success, I felt so proud to have been a small part of it, to have hopefully captured them in the best possible light!
What’s next for you, career-wise?
As an artist, my journey is not only about producing work, it is also about experiencing life and art and by doing that, coming back to my craft with a new angle, a new point of view.
I just came back from Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow, where I was helping Alexei Ratmansky with a new ballet creation he is choreographing for them, which brought me back to my roots; looking at the endless possibilities of a human body to express. With movement, with stillness, with a breath and as I was watching these incredible artists I started thinking about how can I explore more of that in my work.
Visiting art galleries is another way of me honing my eye and aesthetic. Warhol’s exhibit at the AGO was fascinating, especially with his oil paintings from the early part of his career. Looking forward to seeing the Picasso exhibit next and at the same time planning my own, which I am long overdue for!
Looking forward I can not help but feel blessed and inspired to create imagery that speaks, imagery that is not only for “swiping” but perhaps for giving it a couple of seconds of contemplation and discovery. I am an unabashed lover of art and its meaning for humanity and society and so will continue to be a very small part of it in any way I can.
Published by HOLR Magazine.