Name: Tori Duhaime
Current City: Salt Lake City, UT
Hometown: Durango, CO
Occupation: Freelance Photographer + Movement Artist, Marketing Director for Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company
I haven’t had the opportunity to meet Tori face to face. Instead, we’ve built a friendship of sorts through the interwebs like individuals in the modern age normally do. Through these interactions and the simple act of following her work, I'm constantly (and consistently) blown away by the magic she creates and gifts to the world. She’s a phenomenal human, and I am grateful for the opportunity to share her story with you all.
To learn more about her through her eyes, peep the interview below.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
It is always a little jarring to describe myself for a first impression as it’s difficult to trust the idea somebody wants to read about my little life. I’ve had a strange but incredible trajectory to finding myself as I currently am, and it seems impossible to describe my current self without acknowledging the transitions that have brought me here.
From spending my childhood in the mountains and desert, to spending two years of college in the deep south, to returning to the landscapes I love all in pursuit of the professional dance career that traditionally is valued in big cities under bright lights, I’ve ridden the wave of these contrasting experiences and the social, political, and environmental differences to really refine myself into where I like to think I am today and who I hope I continue building to be.
Almost two years ago, after some choreographic jobs, a lot of traveling to build connections, taking classes, and workshops with international movement artists, I reached a long awaiting burnout point in my dance career and was given ample trust and graciousness from my communities to continue offering creative support behind my lens.
In the course of a single week, I premiered my final piece of choreography, had a very political photo go viral, adopted a puppy, found a collective of incredible women in the outdoor industry on social media, and was offered the job where I currently work. As I embraced this dramatic shift I slowly started to allow myself ample freedom in creativity, recreation, and voice that I had somewhat suppressed at the expense of my desired career and found great purpose in taking my choreographic knowledge and research into my photographic career.
I currently still reside in Salt Lake City where I am able to continue supporting the local and global dance industry as a Marketing Director for Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company. Additionally, I am a freelance photographer who is slowly moving much of my work into the outdoor industry to fuel my need of being outdoors and active with landscape as much as possible. I see myself ending up in a smaller mountain community again soon now that I’ve relieved myself of the pressures to perform, but I also have opportunities coming my way that I can't even begin to imagine how they will change my trajectory in life.
As your elevator pitch, you describe yourself as a photographer and movement artist. What originally attracted you to each passion, and how have you did you find a way to marry the two?
I am aware that the term “movement artist” as an identifier can sound pretentious, but it's vital to my work when stripped down. When I transferred back west, (I received my BFA in Modern Dance from the University of Utah) I started to feel irritated by the term “dance” as it would box me into people’s minds upon meeting them. I hated battling the stigma that being on So You Think You Can Dance or in music videos was the only sign of success.
When I incorporated skiing back into my daily life in Utah, I found more relationships between the movement I was researching in class and the movement I was enjoying in the mountains on the weekends. Within this investigation of movement as a dancer and my stubborn insistence that I won't stop exploring to preserve my body, I started finding more and more reasons to incorporate landscape/environment and these other outdoor experiences into my creative research.
I developed this idea that style is designed by survival, but that's a whole can of worms. I really began identifying more and more with the term movement, especially once photography came into play because I noticed I struggled a lot to bring people or landscapes to life if movement wasn’t involved.
Originally this was about physical movement, and it slowly transferred into the breadth of political movements, travel, and ideas worth giving momentum. While I primarily act as a photographer within these ideas, I find that my dance experience is vital to my images in how I carry myself energetically with my clients/subjects, understanding art in relationship to politics historically and presently, and simple design elements when guiding an eye through prescribed space.
Outside of dance, your portfolio is heavily influenced to the outdoors. When did you first discover your love for Mother Earth, and did this influence your decision to live in Salt Lake City?
I grew up in a very “outdoorsy” town in Southwest Colorado, and my love for dance made me a bit of a black sheep in contrast to the community. I spent almost just as much time skiing in the winters as I did training as a dancer.
My precious family spent our weekends outdoors no matter what. As a non-religious family, my great grandfather always referred to it as attending “the Church of the Great Blue Dome.” The outdoors were just a “normal” part of my life though.
Durango is rather isolated, and the idea that this wasn’t how the traditional American family spent their lives seemed more like a Hollywood myth than reality. But when I got my 12th-floor dorm room in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and saw a horizon of only trees that never ended, I very quickly realized how much the outdoors meant to me and how much landscape alone had provided value to my life. My choice to transfer back west was deeply ingrained with the need to return to mountains and in proximity to home due to some sexual assault trauma I was finally working through. Salt Lake City fits the script with a world-class modern dance department at the U of U and mountains in my backyard. From there the outdoors very quickly became more and more prioritized over time in the studio.
How would you describe your style of photography?
I use this term far too often, but I would say it is “nuanced” because I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about what’s “correct” in a photographer's sense. Instead, I spend a lot of energy trying to understand my subjects and capture something more essential than the peak of movement or the ideal Instagram shot.
I’m searching for their transitions and where the flickers of problem-solving crosses their faces. I like to value the humanity and inevitability of movement more than the romanticism of it. While I do scheduled and set shoots, I still consider myself a documentarian behind my lens. It isn’t my job to make somebody look good, it's my job to find where they are already alive and make sure that point of self is remembered.
Sometimes it's in the face, sometimes it's in their bones, sometimes it's how they relate to the environment they are around, but it will always be them that I capture, never who I wish they were for the sake of my own pride of images. My work requires everybody to show up in honesty, including myself; and despite working a lot with dancers, I encourage people to not “perform” but to find their own transcendental state of movement.
What challenges do you face (if any) as a creative, and how do you overcome them?
As I’ve ventured more into providing images for political movements and making active efforts to be inclusive and diverse with my voice, I do my best to tread lightly when representing anybody who particularly doesn’t identify the way I do.
One of the utmost important values I expect of myself is to not profit off of others' pain. Within that, I am particularly conscious of how my images could contribute or perpetuate colonization if I don’t keep myself in check and in conversation with anybody who is a victim to the system.
When dealing with heavy political conversations in my images or highlighting a marginalized community, I do my best to ensure the images are shared with full acknowledgment of the people present beyond the concern of my credit or profit. Even just making sure that my editing process doesn’t wash out skin tones or dilute the vibrancy of personalities seen. I don’t have a perfect answer to sustaining this yet, but I will always welcome criticism or concerns when I fail to do it well.
How would you define yourself, outside of what is included above?
I am definitely guilty of making my work my identity so long as its work I am passionate about. I would argue that I make myself to be rather transparent and so knowing my work, my words, and how I got here offers a lot of me already. My self-deprecation makes self-identifying rather difficult and as corny as it is, I’ve recently discovered I’m very much a 2 in enneagrams. I’ll let that speak for itself for anybody who would like to size me up with that in mind.
If you could offer one nugget of wisdom to individuals around the globe, what would it be and why?
I’ve been on a bit of a soapbox lately about simply being okay with shifting mentality. Not in a way that makes you victim to ploys and schemes, but when speaking with somebody you don't know, somebody who you don’t share identifying factors with; when asked to change your language when referring to their pronouns, nationality, or anything else, just say okay, bank that information and make the change. You’ll mess up, that's okay, just be willing to learn, and I promise you’ll be happier with how you walk in this world with others. Pride in being “right” about other people is a strange pride I can’t support.
Discuss the importance of paying it forward.
I think of kindness as a sort of economy, like why it's important to shop with certain businesses or vote with your dollar. When kindness or acts of good circulate rather than sitting within the receiver, the benefits trickle down and disperse beyond the single act – the same way a single transaction doesn’t just affect the business owner, but all the employees, the middlemen, transporters, manufacturers, etc.
Positive actions are transactions without monetary value, and keeping that wealth of kindness only to ones-self suffocates those in need of that simple action. It is literally a payment in my mind, a vote for good with my every action. I’m not on this earth to be rich in good actions towards me, I’m here to circulate that economy.
What/who are you grateful for and why?
I wish I was somebody who kept a gratitude journal, but every time I try, I realize I feel it so much throughout the day that I only end up feeling guilty when I don't translate it to the page – so surely I will wish I had listed more the next time I read this.
Of course, there is always my family, my wonderful partner DJ, my incredible friendships, and ample opportunities. However, this week, in particular, I’ve been particularly noting my gratitude for compassion as I learn constantly how to better my actions, my art, my relationships, and my impacts while I inevitably make mistakes in all areas. I’m grateful to those who offer their wealth of knowledge to help me improve in all these realms so I too can pass along the privilege of compassion to others.
And my dog, Hayduke. I tell him every day that he is the best thing that's ever happened to me.
Do you have a personal mantra or quote that inspires you?
There’s a lot of quotes I live by, mostly from my great grandmother. Lately though, I’ve been really reminding myself that “intention can’t save us”. It’s really my personal reminder that while I go about the world with the best of intentions, I can still offend people, I can still do wrong, I can still cause harm. My intention doesn’t promise a positive outcome and so thinking before my actions with an intersectional mindset and taking responsibility when I fault, and staying educated are critical to making my intentions meet my actions.