Sunday, September 25, 2011

5 Days and 50 Dancers Among Us -- Getting Gritty in Chicago

I booked my flight to shoot Dancers Among Us in Chicago before I had any dancers, any ideas or anywhere to stay. I figured if I got a few quality dancers I could get maybe a dozen shots I liked. But you just can't overstate the power of social media. After a few tweets and Facebook posts, I had over 50 terrific volunteers. I was able to shoot 23 of them in five days, and I ended up with 30 photographs I love.

Good week at the office.

Chicago is an amazing city. The dance community is tight knit and extremely talented. I was blown away by the skill of the dancers volunteering their time. They were creative, athletic, fearless and beautiful. They made me look very good.

I arrived at a coffee house Monday morning to meet my first three dancers, Kara Lozanovski, Justine Humenansky and Erin Clyne. I knew nothing about Chicago and had no idea where to go.

Luckily I had Katie Yohe. I photographed Katie years ago for my book, "Uncovered", and I hadn't seen her since. She proved to be an invaluable asset, volunteering her time and considerable energy to help me navigate this unfamiliar territory.

I wanted to shoot a ballet dancer en pointe at a construction site. Not the easiest way to start my trip, but Kara's enthusiasm made me hopeful. She was willing to do anything!

We all hopped in a cab and Katie took us to the Fulton Meat Packing District. I assumed Kara would be standing in front of a warehouse on her lunch break, but a wrong turn by the cabbie landed us at an Asphalt factory instead. We couldn't have been luckier.

I approached a couple of the guys on the site and showed them my work.

Photo by Katie Yohe

They suggested I shoot around the corner, away from the prying eyes of The Man in the office.

"Can we borrow your vest? And helmet? Oh, and how about your goggles?"

Believe it or not, there was even an abandoned shovel. If I had done pre-production for a month, I couldn't have found a better set-up. I asked Kara to roll in a mysterious black substance. She happily complied.

I had Kara stand on top of this soft mysterious substance. I asked her to lean on the shovel like she was exhausted, and kick her leg up while en pointe. She kept sinking in or falling down. I was desperate to get the shot quickly. The location was perfect but we had no permission.

Photo by Katie Yohe

We kept frantically shooting. After almost an hour and over 200 photographs, I realized I had tested everyone's patience long enough. I pulled myself away and reviewed the shots. They looked great! The location and the sky couldn't have been more perfect, and Kara nailed her pose.

As Kara walked towards me, I saw what this mysterious substance had done to her pointe shoes. I needed one more shot. She climbed back up on the mound and posed again.

This was an unbelievable start to an incredible trip, and it portended good things to come. I will release more Dancers Among Us photos later this week. In the meantime, if you want to know what that mysterious substance is, take a look at this fun behind the scenes video.

Video by Katie Yohe (of course!)