Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dancing in the... blizzard?!

"Stay inside! Don't travel! Armageddon is around the corner!" warnings by every news organization on December 26, 2010.

As the most recent Blizzard of the Century blanketed the east coast, with white out conditions on all the roads and public transportation at a stand still, it was probably not the greatest idea to leave a warm house and drive 25 miles to Times Square to take dance photographs for my Dancers Among Us project.

But that's just what I did.

My insanity was matched by dancer extraordinaire Jennifer Jones (fresh off a performance with the Mark Morris Dance Company). She landed at JFK in the thick of the storm, and minutes later headed straight to Midtown to pose for me. I've always wanted a snowstorm photo for Dancers Among Us. As usual, I had no specific plan when we met, so we improvised.

I wanted the photo to feel celebratory, so I asked Jennifer if a jump was possible. She didn't feel safe - slippery conditions, 60 mph winds, frigid temperatures, Dansco shoes - so we tried a standing pose. I borrowed a red hat from someone who very well may have been Ben Vereen. He gave us three minutes. Jennifer improvised a pose, reaching up to catch the snow.

We took a thaw break and reviewed the image. We both knew it could be better.

Jennifer agreed the pose had to be a jump, and she threw herself and caution to the wind. I tried an environmental set-up, using a wide-angle lens and featuring lots of people.

It’s okay, but it could still be better. I felt the people were distracting, and I wanted the feeling of Times Square fading into the blizzard.

After another thaw break, we went to a new location and Jennifer came up with a terrific jump.

Unfortunately I just missed my timing, and I captured her back leg too low. Bummer, given the fun background action.

Beautiful pose, though no humor in the background this time. I like the people huddled together contrasting Jennifer's joyful energy. Now we really needed a thaw break - her hands were turning purple.

When we went back outside, a Starbucks holiday cup was drifting across the snow. I considered it a sign. I am looking for a corporate sponsor, after all!

I really think Jennifer was approaching a state of shock. So when I turned my head and saw the famous 42nd Street subway station, I almost didn't ask her to jump again. Almost.

After we finished shooting, Jennifer explained why these photographs are so personal to her. You can see the video by clicking here.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

How to Get Kicked Out of Rockefeller Plaza

I just had my latest run-in with law enforcement while shooting Dancers Among Us with Ballet Hispanico. This time it was in Rockefeller Center. I simply wanted a quick lift and a kiss. First I tried to have Vanessa Valecillos and Nicholas Villeneuve stand on a bench so I could get their full bodies in the frame. After about five seconds, they were told by security to get off the bench, and we didn't get the shot.

So then we went in front of the tree to try it again. But apparently there's a rule against lifting of any kind, because a second officer stopped us.

We still didn't get the shot.

The dancers were getting cold and stiff (it was 25 degrees!), so I decided to have them go back to the original bench.

We practiced the lift once on 5th Avenue,

and then they jumped on the forbidden bench and nailed it! I got the shot, we all got yelled at and nobody ended up in handcuffs. Perfect!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dance Photography on Speed

This past fall, I had the opportunity to shoot six dancers from The Boston Conservatory. In one weekend. It was dance photography on speed. I had to come up with a different location and pose for each dancer, in addition to making each look his or her very best.

Luckily, as I've found in my dance photography project Dancers Among Us, dancers are masters at not only making themselves look their best but also at taking advantage of their settings.

Plus, this particular group had a daredevil streak, which contributed to the adrenaline rush of a satisfyingly packed weekend.

With an oncoming train, this one is spine-tingling, but she was so professional -- she doesn't even look scared!

I'm so impressed with his strength -- he was able to hold his right arm and leg completely parallel while I got the shot.

Hope he has Apple Care.

Leaping off a wall in Central Park -- and smiling about it!

I can't get my leg that high, especially not in the face of oncoming traffic.

Overall, it was a great weekend, and I couldn't have asked for a better group of daring dancers.

Monday, December 13, 2010

"Will Jordan Matter please come to security immediately."

I shot topless women publicly for seven years for my book, Uncovered. I didn't think I could get in even more trouble for something as innocent as dance photography. Apparently I was mistaken. Though you can't tell from the photographs, I've been escorted out of many locations. Since I basically assume the answer will be no, I never ask.

This image took awhile to compose because I couldn't figure out how to include Elise Drew (a founding member of TAKE Dance Company) and the dinosaur in the same frame without her looking tiny. The guard had SEVERAL opportunities to kick us out of the museum.

Which she did.

But we kept coming back.

As I took this final image, the guard screamed, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?????" That was it. Luckily I got the shot.

Minsung Kim in Bryant Park

Really? You can't do a backflip in the park? Who knew. I hadn't gotten the shot, so I challenged the guard a little bit, which meant he had to call his superior, which meant we got three more shots! This was one of them.

Surprise, surprise. We got about 30 seconds, which is really about as long as Tenealle Farragher could hold the split anyway.

It's one thing to just get kicked out of a location. It's quite another to hear "Will Jordan Matter please come to security immediately."

They were really quick! Literally after about five jumps (by the talented Sara Bumgardner of Randy James Dance Works), two security guards descended on me. Why???? I still don't understand.

This was no surprise. The guards were really cool about it. Of the daily offenses they see in the bleachers, this was pretty mild. Still, I only got four shots.

I was certain we were going to be dragged out of there. No doubt in my mind. But... nothing, not a peep. And Michelle Fleet (of the Paul Taylor Dance Company) and I shot for a good ten minutes, which is an eternity in a deadly quiet room.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Hold it... hoooolllllldddd it....!

Timing is another thing that dancers and I share. I have to be tuned into my environment to recognize the right moment to take a photograph, and dancers have to time their movements to be in exactly the right position at exactly the right time, whether it be at the top of a jump or landing from a quadruple pirouette.

When photographing dancers, especially for my Dancers Among Us project, the dancer and I work to get our timing in sync so that we get great photographs. In my photo shoot with Jeffrey Smith of the Paul Taylor Dance Company, we had to coordinate the train, the crowd, his jump, my shot. Luckily, both Jeffrey and I are well-practiced.

First, we tried to eliminate one of the elements -- the moving train -- but the images just weren't as exciting.


This one was interesting in that it looks like he's leaping into the train, but Jeffrey and I liked the sense of motion that comes from both his movement and the speeding train.

Luckily, trains are fairly predictable. Bystanders, on the other hand, are not.

Her head is cutting off his back leg.

Ditto. Here's the final one, though:

He's at the height of his leap and framed by the doors, and while the bystanders are present, they add to the image rather than interfere with it. The "Times Square" sign is clearly visible to boot. It was my job to recognize and capture this moment at nearly the same time, and I'm glad I nailed it.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Commitment in Dance and Photography

I have a lot in common with the dancers I work with in my Dancers Among Us project. Dancers rehearse and train for hours for brief moments on stage, and photographers take hundreds of pictures to get that one perfect shot. We're both committed to our art, and we are both willing to sacrifice time and energy for an elusive and fleeting reward.

My photo shoot with Annmaria Mazzini, a dancer with the Paul Taylor Dance Company, is a great example of this. Her physical stamina is amazing -- during the photo shoot, she jumped a total of ninety-two times (in the pouring rain!) before we got that one perfect image. Just as she is committed to achieving beautiful movement, I'm committed to getting the best shot, even if that means spending hours in the rain.

For this shoot, we started off with other poses. I wanted to avoid asking her to jump in a rainstorm, but nothing else looked good. For example:

Even once we started with the leaps, though, she had to leap over and over again until we got the right shot. Here's the first of ninety-two jumps....

And another....

This one has a very cool effect. Someone else took a photo of her at the same moment, and the flash on their camera illuminates her body and the rain. Love the shot, but her back leg is cut off.

On to the next....

This was my second choice. I love seeing the Macy's sign and all the people. I also love the woman checking her out. But she didn't stand out enough -- too much distraction behind her.

Finally, on her fiftieth leap, we got the shot.

Perfect position, great expression, good framing, and, most importantly, in focus! A little retouching from Joe Barna at Colorworks resulted in the final, flawless image.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Different Kind of Headshot

I'm accustomed to shooting headshots and actor comp cards, and it was a treat to photograph Patti LaBelle, featured in the Broadway show FELA!, and Alan Cumming, Eli Gold on the CBS show The Good Wife, for the Gabrielle's Angel Foundation's PSA ads.

On the day of my shoot with Patti, my assistant, Hannah, had an audition later that evening and needed a soulful song to sing. Patti suggested "Let It Be" by the Beatles, and in the photo below, she's encouraging Hannah as she sings.

After Hannah sang a few bars, Patti interrupted her and finished the chorus. She said she was holding back to save her voice for FELA! that evening, but I couldn't tell. It was surreal.