Rachel Papo is an Israeli photographer who was born in 1970 in Columbus, Ohio and was raised in Israel. She began photographing as a teenager and attended a renowned fine-arts high-school in Haifa, Israel. At age eighteen she served in the Israeli Air Force as a photographer. She earned a BFA in Fine Arts from Ohio State University (1991-96), and an MFA in Photography from the School of Visual Arts in New York City (2002-05).
Rachel’s photographs are included in several public and private collections, and were exhibited and published worldwide. She currently lives in Woodstock, New York, pursuing fine art photography and accepting commissioned projects. Rachel is represented by ClampArt Gallery in New York City, and her first book, Serial No. 3817131, was published by powerHouse Books. She has been awarded a NYFA Fellowship in 2006 and has won a Lucie Award in 2009. Her latest personal work, Desperately Perfect, is set amoungst young ballet students at the Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia.
‘Fifteen-year-old Katya is devastated. This week is the big international conference, in which dance professionals from around the world visit the renowned Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia. They will be allowed to get a glimpse of the young students during several of their daily ballet lessons. The demonstration for her class was about to start, when Katya was ordered by the teacher to leave the room. Why did she have to get injured the day before the conference? This was her chance to be seen by an international crowd, and she has worked so hard to reach this point. Her shoulder hurts, but she doesn’t care. She is used to this pain. If it didn’t hurt how would she get better?’
‘In these times of reality TV and instant stardom, in a country that is constantly evolving towards western culture, there exists an institution in which the old ways are still practiced. From the age of ten until eighteen; twelve hours a day; six days a week; on the barre or in a classroom—for the students of this school there are no shortcuts.
This project is a look into the lives of a group of adolescents who, in their hope for a better, wider life, spend the majority of their youth in fierce competition. Based on my own memories of being a ballet student for nine years of my childhood, never being the best in class, these images emphasize the emotional side of these children’s uncompromising reality. They stretch their bodies further every day, desperate to stand out, while constantly being encouraged by their instructors to be uniform—identical to one another. Engaged in endless repetition of physical phrases, these students obsessively strive for a level of perfection that is always out of reach.’