Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Dancers Among Us Rises to Terrifying New Heights

Immediately after meeting Rhythmic Gymnast Evgeniya (Jenia) Chernukhina, my mind went to Dancers Among Us. She hired me for headshots and a promotional dance photo, but how could I resist? She has been training eight hours a day in Russia since she was four, she was familiar with the project, and she was excited to participate (plus she knows five languages, which has nothing to do with anything but is very impressive). This was going to be a very good day at the office!

I didn't have any ideas nor any props to use, but I knew it needed to be special; I couldn't waste this opportunity! We found one of the most beautiful spots in Manhattan at Fort Tyron Park, overlooking the Hudson River. The park has a magnificent 100 foot cliff stretching down to the West Side Highway. My assistant, Travis Francis, and my makeup artist, Valerie Weiss, both looked at me with concern. "You're not going to ask her to stand on that ledge, right?"

They already knew the answer, and they could barely watch. Jenia didn't seem concerned though. I asked her what pose made her feel the most secure, preferably one that resembled the "king of the world!" moment in Titanic. We practiced on the grass a few times to make sure she was very stable. Jenia climbed on the wall and Travis hid behind her, ready to grab her if she, well, you know. Valerie covered her eyes, and Jenia hit her pose as I shouted, "Try it again! Amazing. One more time. Can you get your leg a little higher? Smile!"

A small crowd had gathered behind me, watching intensely. One of them expressed his unease. "I'm totally freaking out. What if she falls off the cliff?"

Honestly, I was a little freaked out myself.

I rejoined my team and we reviewed the images. We loved them. I had dodged a big bullet. Then the sun came out and it was time for a little more Russian Roulette (terrible, yet irresistible pun).

"Let's try it one more time. Open your body to the sun. Close your eyes like you're basking in the afternoon light."

Crazy idea, but maybe she could do it.

And she did! I captured 102 photos of Jenia on that ledge in eight minutes. It was finally time to thank the photography gods and move on.

Satisfied that I had a beautiful shot for Dancers Among Us, I turned my attention to her dance promotional photo. We decided on a jump. I found a location filled with beautiful light and flowers that matched her shirt. Of course, she nailed the pose.

Beautiful! Perfect form. Nice composition. Quick and easy. It's a wrap.

EXCEPT the composition was so nice that I wanted to turn it into another Dancers Among Us shot. But what could she do?

Jenia looked very Daisy Duke. I started politely accosting all the sunbathers in the park, looking for a prop to match her country vibe. The very last group I approached had a pair of water guns (the photography gods were still hanging around). I recruited Valerie to be her playmate, splashed some water on them and asked Jenia to jump and laugh.

She nailed it every time. I only needed seven frames before we got this shot (quick shout-out to Valerie- your back looks amazing!)

Now I was finished. Seriously. What more could we do? It was hot. Jenia was tired (though she didn't admit it). I loved the photos. It's a wrap!

"EXCEPT remember how when you were warming up, you did that little thing where you kick your leg straight up and touch your head to your knee? Feel like doing that real quick? Maybe while you're crossing the street?"

Finally we parted ways, and I promised to photograph her again soon. Coincidentally enough, Jenia and her teammates train in Philadelphia, which is one of the three cities listed in my current poll on Facebook to determine the next Dancers Among Us location! Guess what city I am now rooting for...