Thursday, June 9, 2011

Conquering the Big Kahuna - Dancers Among Us at the Lincoln Center Fountain

Here is the advantage to working with a television crew: they get permits. Jermaine Terry and I arrived at Lincoln Center with actual written permission to photograph there- a very rare luxury for me (thank you, ZDF German Television!). The specifics of the permit were 1) access from 1:00-2:00pm and 2) location limited to the Reflecting Pool.

Photo by Geoff Legg

My idea was to shoot Jermaine doing a cannonball into the Reflecting Pool. He couldn't actually do a cannonball because that might cause simultaneous cardiac arrest among the security personnel, and it is also only 1 foot deep.

Making it look like a cannonball was easy- perspective is a very deceptive tool. And the background was temporarily filled with kids seeking relief from the heat. Perfect contrast to Jermaine in a swimsuit.

But I wasn't too pleased with the location I had selected. The Reflecting Pool was looking too much like an actual pool, so the cannonball wasn't very thrilling. It just looked like Jermaine was jumping into a public pool. The photo didn't have much drama.

I decided to try for the Big Kahuna- the Lincoln Center Fountain. It is Lincoln Center's Fort Knox- there is a guard assigned to the fountain at all times. I have longed to photograph a leaping shot over the fountain for years, but I have always been kicked out before getting it.

I knew we would only have a few seconds, if any, to shoot. Once I saw the giant American Ballet Theatre banner hanging behind the fountain, it sealed the deal. I had to give it a try, the setting was just too perfect.

Jermaine climbed on the platform and started jumping, quietly and quickly.

It looked great, but the water height wasn't at its fullest. I aimed to get Jermaine fully silhouetted against the bright water. Suddenly the jets exploded upward and I got one shot with perfect form.

Then I heard that familiar NYPD whistle. I knew the officer was walking toward me, but I, of course, pretended not to notice and kept shooting.

Photos by Geoff Legg

I heard him screaming before I could understand the words.

"Does your permit specify jumping on the platform? DOES YOUR PERMIT SPECIFY JUMPING ON THE PLATFORM? I don't think so! It's 95 degrees and I'm getting paid! This is how we do it at Lincoln Center. He has to get off the platform and put his shirt on. Now!"

"Those are the two main elements!" I retorted. "It's supposed to look like a cannonball. It won't look very good on the ground and with a shirt. So, you're killing the shot?"

He smiled. "Yes I am."

The officer radioed headquarters but we didn't wait around to hear what they had to say. It's amazing how quickly equipment can be gathered.

I didn't get to tell him I already got the perfect shot. Success.

I owe a huge thanks to the amazing Alvin Ailey dancer, Jermaine Terry for working with me and conquering the impossible, twice. (Check out yesterday's blog post of Dancers Among Us at the Andy Warhol monument where we hear that NYPD whistle yet again!). And of course, a huge shout out to Jennifer Jones for her help and the wonderful idea of adding the arm floaties- nothing like adding the perfect prop to complete my Big Kahuna catch.

As difficult as it was to photograph at the Lincoln Center fountain, it was a cakewalk compared to the next shoot of the day. Tomorrow, in the final installment of this 4-part series recalling a day in the life of photographing Dancers Among Us, I'll tell the story of capturing the most challenging shot of all. Stay tuned!