Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Stumbling Around Philadelphia- Dancers Among Us Gets Lucky Again (and again, and again...)

Another beautiful city, another stunning day of weather, and another outpouring of volunteers as Dancers Among Us continues to crisscross the nation. The Philadelphia dance community welcomed me with enthusiasm, and once again I was unable to photograph everyone who wanted to participate.

On Saturday I started at sunrise and spent 15 hours shooting 10 dancers. To say I was unprepared is an understatement. I put a loose schedule together when I arrived to my hotel at 12:30am on Saturday. Five hours later I was heading out the door with my equipment and a handful of granola. The day was a blur of activity. I had a few scenarios in mind, but I was primarily relying on chance.

One of my favorite sites is, perhaps because I rely on chance so much when I'm shooting. Stumbling upon shots was definitely the theme on Saturday, and it took several forms.

Stumbling Upon an Idea-

Sometimes I have no idea what to do. I have a dancer in front of me, an hour before the next shoot, and I need to manufacture something. Fortunately, current events took over on Saturday.

Jaamil Olawale Kosoko waited patiently as I finished a shoot at the LOVE sign. I had no ideas for Jaamil, and I was due in Old City soon. Across the street from LOVE was City Hall, bathed in late afternoon light. That seemed promising.

We arrived to a full scale Wall Street protest. The possibilities were limitless.

Walking through Center City with Kelsey Ludwig, we saw a crowd gathered by the Apple Store. A memorial had spontaneously erupted for Steve Jobs, and it was quite moving. How can we honor the spirit of this memorial without being cute or overly dramatic? We gave it our best shot, and I believe Kelsey struck just the right tone.

"I brought a skateboard." Miles Yueng was offering a suggestion for his shot. He had to leave for rehearsal in 30 minutes, so I had to be extremely decisive- which is difficult when you have zero ideas.

Falling off the skateboard would be funny. But where? We were in an upscale section of Center City- not exactly skateboarder haven.

Or maybe it is. Two great looking boarders, Tracy and Jordan, flew by me and stopped at the light.

"Guys, want to be in a book? Can you pose in this photo?" I asked. They were open to the idea, and even suggested a grungy alley around the corner.


Stumbling Upon Props-

"The Italian Market. Do the Italian Market."

I heard this from everyone, so I asked Barry Kerollis to meet me there at the busiest time of the day. Once again, I arrived in a rush with no scenario in mind. We had 20 minutes. I had spent five hours on two shots in the morning, so I was very behind schedule and trying to make up for lost time.

The Market was awash in authentic and surprisingly unphotogenic meat and fruit stands. We headed to the most famous stand- Giordano's. Sitting and waiting for us was one of the greatest props I've ever seen- John's infamous shopping bag cart. Ten dollars later, we had use of it for five minutes. It's all we needed.

Stumbling Upon Reactions-

Often it's the unexpected reactions of passers-by that make the shot, and sometimes I don't even know it's happened until I review the images later that day.

I couldn't leave Philly without photographing a slice of the nation's history. I asked Lauren Bilski to dress like a tourist, bring some binoculars and wear her pointe shoes. We stumbled upon a wall featuring the Declaration of Independence, and the reflection of the buildings gave it added drama. But it is the reaction of the family passing by that gives the image life.

Stumbling Upon People-

This happens to me with amazing frequency- I've got the scenario and the location, and we shoot until I think I'm satisfied. Then something magical happens- a person arrives and completes the story.

This happened twice to Evgeniya Chernukhina. First, we met at 6am for a "Rocky" inspired sunrise photo on the Philadelphia Museum of Art stairs. We shot until 8am, and I thought I had it.

Then I noticed Malik Gray teaching a fitness class on the stairs, and I asked him to join the shot.

Next, we headed to Philly's oldest road, a major tourist destination. I thought Evgeniya should be watering the plants, and I knocked on the front door of a pretty yellow house. I asked the owner t0 borrow his hose, and explained the concept for the book. Incredibly, he had already heard of Dancers Among Us. That never fails to thrill me.

I asked Evgeniya to balance on a slippery pole, lift her leg effortlessly and spray the hose- an almost impossible task.

Looked good to me! We packed up and started walking towards the car. Then my jaw dropped open and I stopped in my tracks. A man dressed in period garb was giving a tour of the street. We ran back to the location, set up the shot again and hoped he'd enter the frame.

He did much more than that!

It is often said, "Chance favors the prepared mind."

Who am I to argue with Louis Pasteur? However, I have a slightly different interpretation.

"Chance favors an open mind."

A special shout out to:

Local photographers Thomas V. Hartman (above photo) and Patrick Cliett for guiding me around the city and suggesting great locations; dancer Jennifer Jones for making a day trip from NYC and conceiving several of the poses; Samantha Siegel, Bill Thomas and PhiladelphiaDANCE for finding me amazing artists; Katie Yohe for her fantastic ideas; and the many dancers who volunteered their time and talent to make this day possible.

Thank you!