Thursday, October 27, 2011

Dancers Among Us Lands in Jail

So how did this happen?

It all started when I got arrested after a fight with two hoodlums who were threatening a ballerina. I ended up in a cell with Tomas Panto, a dancer with Atlanta Ballet. I bribed the guards to sneak in a camera, and we took this shot before being transferred to a maximum security prison. They felt I was a threat to the other inmates, so they confined me to lock-down until my attorney could get me out on bail.

Do you have any idea how much I wish that was true? The real story is much less sexy.

I actually owe it all to Mariette Edwards, a celebrated career coach who brought me to Atlanta to photograph some of her corporate clients. I agreed to the job so I could shoot for Dancers Among Us as well. Mariette took on the responsibility of suggesting locations, and she casually mentioned that her friend works in a set and props warehouse. Among other things, she wrote, they have a jail cell.

I flipped out. I've been lusting after a prison shot for months.

I didn't waste any time- we arrived at Special Projects thirty minutes after I met my first crop of dancers. I came with an entourage- three dancers (Tomas, Abby McDowell and Adrienne Hicks), Mariette, Chelsea Thomas, a dance critic with ArtsCriticAtl, and Will Day, an Atlanta based photographer.

We were given access to the costume shop, and had been told there were several orange jumpsuits. We desperately scoured the endless rows of costumes and only discovered orange scrubs. The shirt was too small, but the pants looked pretty good. Guess he'll have to disrobe a bit.

We were brought to the location. I was tingling with adrenalin. Not only was it authentically grimy in every way, but the sunlight pouring through the window filled the cell with a haunting glow. It was perfect.

Suddenly I was confronted with the reality that I had no idea how to use this amazing opportunity. What should Tomas be doing? Trying to escape, perhaps?

No, the bars are too distracting. Maybe planking between the bed and toilet?

Too cute. I wanted Tomas to embody a prisoner's desperation and loneliness. But there's very little to work with in a jail cell. Maybe leaning over the sink?

No, no, no! When in doubt, look for the light.

"Tomas, look out the window, towards the life you no longer have. Give me something simple, something lonely. Mariette, do they have a Bible in the props department? Let's put it on the bed."

Now we are getting somewhere, but the pose needs to be stronger.

"How's your backbend? Wait, that's a silly question. You're with Atlanta Ballet, you can do anything. Cling to the window and collapse backwards. The sunlight will wash over you. Let's move the Bible to the foreground."

Suddenly the room was alive with electricity. The dancers were shouting out positioning notes and I was bouncing off the walls. In the midst of the excitement, Chelsea had a poignant idea.

"Should he be holding the Bible?"

Then Chelsea added the final touch. "Do you want his shirt in the photo?"

It was an auspicious beginning to my day. I went on to shoot six more dancers and created some very exciting photos, but there is really nothing like your first prison experience.