Monday, April 4, 2011

Dancers Among Us at the Restore Freedom Gala

Recently, I was a featured artist at the Restore Freedom Gala. It was hosted at Angel Orensanz by Restore NYC, a nonprofit charity that helps foreign-born sex trafficking survivors find new hope in the city. I donated five photographs for auction, and during the gala I entertained the guests by photographing Dancers Among Us with Jennifer Jones, who is currently rehearsing Orfeo for the Mark Morris Dance Group at the Metropolitan Opera House.


Angel Orensanz is a particularly intimidating space to photograph, because it's massive and Gothic and overwhelming. And stunning! Jennifer would have to fill the space or be swallowed up by the surroundings.

An hour before the shoot we found a private corner and rehearsed some poses. I wanted Jennifer to have her cigarette lit by a debonair gentleman in a tux. I would add background people to the stage to make it look like a party. We had no gentleman and no background people yet, but first we needed to settle on the pose. We would have only ten minutes to take the photo, so there was no time for improvisation (the process usually takes a couple of hours).

First we considered a jump.

Nice, but it would be very difficult to coordinate the jump to line the cigarette up with the lighter. Next, we tried a turn to accentuate the movement of the dress, as if she was turning quickly, enraptured by the gentleman.

Stunning, but the dress didn't cooperate consistently, and I wasn't sure the pose was dramatic enough for the surroundings. Jennifer suggested a back-bend, stretching her cigarette out to the lighter. Perfect!

We had twenty minutes to wrangle up some participants. We walked around the party like casting directors, looking for the most representative cross-section of people drunk enough to agree. We had an easy time of it - only one person said no, and he changed his mind once I pulled out my trump card: beard envy!

Finally, we needed a gentleman to light the cigarette. We noticed the musical guest for the evening, Zack Martin, was wearing a tux. And he was suitably debonair, in a scruffy kind of way.

THE SHOOT (photos of me by Geoff Legg)

We stormed the stage with the difficult task of making the laborious process of photography entertaining to five hundred people, while creating an image worthy of the location, in ten minutes.

I asked everyone to come on stage, and to my surprise I was swarmed with volunteers. As they gathered I checked the lighter (probably not the best moment to try a prop for the first time).

The background was looking much too cluttered, so I had to release many of the people I had asked to participate - that’s life in show business! I loosely organized the remaining guests...

and demonstrated my preferred lighting technique to an amused Zach.

I set-up the pose and relied on Jennifer to hold it for five minutes. That may not sound long, but try doing it for ten seconds. I did, and my back may never be the same.

Once Zach stopped laughing and waving to the crowd, I started directing and shooting. The background seemed to demand vertical framing, so I spent my time trying to make it perfect.

As we ran out of time, a familiar voice inside my head said, “Try something different.” So I ran over my time and shot some quick horizontal images. I always listen to that voice because it’s usually right.

(Click to enlarge -- the detail is beautiful!)

After the shoot, Jennifer and I expressed very different views about the experience, thus proving how much easier my job is.