"Squares" from Asael Dror's new book of photographs of dancer Tiffany Geigel (Photo/© Asael Dror)
"Squares" from Asael Dror's new book of photographs of dancer Tiffany Geigel (Photo/© Asael Dror)

Local photographer highlights beauty of disabled dancer

Tiffany Geigel was born in New York with Jarcho-Levin syndrome, a rare genetic bone-growth disorder that is characterized by distortion and compression of the spine and torso.

Now 34, she is 3 feet 9 inches tall with long flowing hair and slender legs that go on and on. Geigel has made use of those lovely legs, becoming a professional dancer, among other accomplishments.

For Israeli-born photographer and Bay Area tech entrepreneur Asael Dror, she was the model he’d been waiting for.

“I had always wanted to do an entire book about one model,” he told J. “And when I found Tiffany, I thought she was an ideal candidate, first because she is a dancer, but also because she is different.”

Dror’s successful test shots of Geigel persuaded her to sign onto his project. The result of their collaboration, “The Beauty of Tiffany,” a coffee-table book containing 50 stunning color and black-and-white portraits, was released July 26, the anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“More than to make a statement about disability, I want to address the issue of the societal view of beauty — to put a dent in it,” Dror said. “Especially in the U.S., we are brainwashed that there is one kind of beauty, and that is false. There are many kinds of beauty.”

Geigel said it was at first frightening to think about exposing herself to this kind of visual examination, as she was no stranger to public mockery in the streets and online.

“Never in a million years would I have thought that I would be approached to art-model nude,” Geigel writes in the book’s essay. But “Asael always creates gorgeous images of my body and to my surprise, I love all the photos we have made together … I hope that this book will be able to open people’s minds about the meaning of beauty.”

Dror’s venture into this kind of impact photography is nothing if not a passion project.

Raised by parents who are well-known scholars in Israel — Israel Prize winner Yehezkel Dror and writer Rachel Elboim-Dror — Asael moved to the Bay Area 30 years ago. He did well in tech, eventually selling the company he founded to Microsoft, which left him free to pursue his interests in art.

Photography was a medium he had studied first as a child in Israel and then at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills. Two of his favorite photographers were the Americans Robert Mapplethorpe and Edward Weston. Indeed, their influence can be seen in the sculptural way he lights and poses Geigel.

“I loved the way Weston treated the nude body as a landscape,” Dror said. “In some of his photos, he distorted the body to make it more abstract. But I didn’t want to do that with Tiffany. I needed it to be clear that my images show her exactly as she is.”

Dror, now a San Francisco resident, says that in the creative process he learned to really see and to emphasize Geigel’s grace and unique abilities.

Geigel started dancing at the age of 3 as a way to strengthen her body, and danced through college. She performs today with the Heidi Latsky dance company in New York, among others. Artistic director Lasky called the book “an exquisite portrait of one of my favorite dancers.”

“The images are compelling, stunning, and reveal Tiffany in sculptural and iconic ways as well as deeply intimate and personal ones,” she wrote in response to the publication. “I was struck by the deep sensitivity of the photographer and the openness of his subject. Together they have created an elegant book of art that speaks to the absolute beauty of the human form.”

Dror aspires to find galleries that will exhibit large-format prints of his work, but he wanted to publish the book so that more people would see it. “The Beauty of Tiffany” recently was featured in a photo essay in the Washington Post, allowing the images to speak for themselves.

“I was very fortunate to make that connection with the Washington Post,” Dror said. “My goal is to make these images accessible.”

While he will continue to photograph disabled people, among others, he said he wants a broader scope. “The issue is larger than disability. It’s about difference, our different beauties.”

Laura Pall
Laura Paull

Laura Paull is J.'s Culture Editor, and was a longtime J. freelance writer before that.