Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How to Prepare for a Dance Shoot

Recently I received this post on my Facebook Fan Page from Tony Howell - "Jordan! LOVE LOVE LOVE your body of work. Have you written anywhere on how to plan/prepare for a dance photo shoot? Should one? Thank you!"

I've done lots of dance photography, yet I've never written about preparation. Great idea, Tony! Since the images in Dancers Among Us are so conceptual, I'll use promotional dancer photographs to illustrate these points instead. The prep for Dancers Among Us is different from general dance photography preparation (I sense another post topic in the works).

Dance Clothing vs. Street Clothing

Here's the big aesthetic decision we need to make. Should the mood of the photos be more classic or contemporary? Are you wearing tights or jeans? A leotard or a dress? Heels, pointe shoes or bare feet? Since I primarily shoot on location, I tend to like contemporary clothing to match the surroundings. However, sometimes a more dance-y look in a contemporary setting can be quite striking.

Here are examples of street clothing in contemporary settings-

Here are some dance clothing examples in contemporary settings -

Special note to women: If you're wearing a skirt, be aware of your choice of skivvies! They should blend in or be a fashion statement.

No matter what clothes you're wearing, make sure they don't restrict your movement AT ALL. Your photos are meant to represent the VERY BEST of what you can do physically. Don't compromise your skills because your tight, restrictive jeans make your ass look great. You're a dancer - your ass would look great in a burlap sack. That said, a burlap sack is a terrible idea - the clothes should show off your shape, highlight your lines, and yet be free of physical limitations.

Here are two contrasting clothing approaches with Marcella Guarino, and they both work well.

Preparation and Improvisation

Chance favors the prepared mind. I love to shoot spontaneously, but we need a certain amount of preparation to be free to improvise. To prepare for your photo shoot, you need to first know your strong suit as a dancer. Are you better at lots of jumps and high kicks, or are beautiful lines your thing?

Arianna Bickle has impressive extensions, so we looked for different ways to showcase them.

For Jennifer Lee Crowl, we chose a setting and pose that would create a striking image. A more subtle pose needs a strong visual component for effect, whereas big athletic movements don't need that additional element to be effective (though it doesn't hurt).

In addition to knowing what you want to highlight, you should also have as many options as possible ready. It's very important to have a repertoire to draw upon so you can get a lot of variety in a short period of time. It's like an actor who knows her lines and blocking - during the shoot the time is spent creating rather than practicing.

If you're a terrific jumper, like Sarah Bumgarner, be ready with a variety of your most impressive jumps.

Sarah also happens to be amazingly flexible. In addition to her impressive jumps, she arrived with many options showcasing her flexibility.

As a Paul Taylor dancer, Jeffery Smith has incredible skill with physical interpretation. Not to beat a dead horse here, but he had a wealth of options for me to choose. You'll never go broke making a photographer (or choreographer) look good.

Keep an open mind, but stay safe.

This is essential to the creative process. Only work with photographers you respect and trust. The most unique photographs come from unexpected places; the craziest ideas often lead to the coolest shots. Try anything, as long as you feel safe. I tend to push my dancers to their physical limitations, and I rely on them to know when they're too tired or if the pose I suggest is too difficult or just plain crazy. If you're feeling unsafe, STOP IMMEDIATELY and discuss it with the photographer. Dancers are conditioned to never say, "I can't" I've been the beneficiary of this attitude many, many times, and I admire all of you for it. But believe me, you don't have to be flying with abandon through the air to have a great photo.

Simpler poses can be beautiful as well. Just be safe!

Warm up!!!!

Do I really need to insult all the dancers reading this by suggesting that you warm up before the photo shoot? Apparently I do, because it rarely happens. If possible, take a class in the morning, and warm up like you're about to perform (or rehearse, at the very least).


Did you notice the under-representation of male dancers in this post? Me too. So I'm offering $75 off dancer photographs to any male dancer who mentions this post.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Be ALIVE -- Richard Warner

Anyone who has seen the recent videos of my Dancers Among Us series knows that each one ends with this motto - "be ALIVE."

If there's one overriding hope I have for my children, it is to be alive, in every sense. When I meet someone who is truly alive and committed to their life's passion, I want to call attention to him or her. This is the first in a series of posts celebrating such people.

be ALIVE - Richard Warner

Richard Warner, Head of Acting at University of Virginia, in front of his Glass Menagerie poster

I can honestly say that only two teachers ever excited me. One was my second grade teacher, Mrs. Flood, because I had a crush on her (I've always been a sucker for brunettes). The other was Irby Brown, an inspiring professor at the University of Richmond, who remains a friend to this day. That's it. Finding a teacher who is engaging, bright, thoughtful, invested and not terribly self-absorbed is rare. For the acting students at the University of Virginia, Richard Warner embodies these traits, and they are very lucky to have him in their corner.

This past weekend, UVA flew me to campus to photograph acting headshots for many of their students, and I spent two days hanging out with Richard, who is Head of Acting for the grad and undergrad programs. He's a very joyful man, supportive of his students and really invested in their futures. He obviously loves his work. He talked (and talked, and talked) about his students with great pride and excitement.

And he's full of curiosity. He stayed with me as I wandered around campus with each student, looking for the best light, colors and textures. He peppered me with questions about my process, and he welcomed the free-form nature of my approach. His encouragement reassured the students, and provided me with the freedom I needed to give them each a unique and creative headshot. Plus he took me to a baseball game, at the very same field I played on years ago. He exhibited great passion for the baseball program as well (and basketball, football, lacrosse and soccer programs). He was the perfect host.

I've spent the past three months shooting acting headshots and comp cards for grad students from all over the country. Their experiences vary dramatically, but one thing is pretty consistent - they're all in debt. Acting school is no less expensive than law school or med school, but paying off the loans is much more difficult. As a result, the MFA they receive usually carries with it a six-figure debt that's difficult to overcome. Richard has instituted an incredible policy at UVA- each grad student gets a full scholarship, plus a $21,000/year stipend. These students are at an incredible advantage because they're not saddled with debilitating debt.

I could go on and on about Richard, but I've been advised by people who know about these things that my posts can be a bit wordy (too late). So I'll just say this - students at UVA, you're lucky to have Richard. If you don't realize it right now, you definitely will soon enough.

Below are some of the headshots I took this week (with Richard's help - did I mention he held my reflectors?).

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Dancers Among Us Photography in Bryant Park

A few days ago, Bryant Park tweeted about Dancers Among Us:

The link leads to this photograph (featuring Minsung Kim):

They even posted about another shoot of mine on their blog! That's awesome, right? Of course! Here's the irony: I got kicked out for both shoots, and I blogged about them here and here.

Of course, I'm glad they're fans of Dancers Among Us, despite our past difficulties....

Friday, March 11, 2011

Too Hot for China

Before Dancers Among Us, I worked on Uncovered where I shot over 100 women bare-breasted in New York City over six years. It was great to use my art to empower women to feel good about themselves and their bodies. The women were from all walks of life, and every one of them volunteered to participate. And left the shoots euphoric.

I turned the project into a book of images complete with essays from the participants about their journeys towards self-acceptance. It landed me on the Tyra Show, BBC, and The Today Show so I was excited when a feature director at Marie Claire China recently contacted me with this request-

"We are interested in your wonderful work "Uncovered". We want to do an 8-10 page interview with you in our next issue. Please reply to me soon."

Now that's pretty exciting. And surprising, to tell you the truth. China isn't the first country that comes to mind when I think of a photography book featuring bare-breasted women in public. Perhaps Uncovered will start a social revolution, and women across the country will remove their tops and celebrate their bodies. I will become a national celebrity, having reversed centuries of discrimination with the power of my photographs.

This fantasy grew in scope over the next few days, only to be shattered with this follow-up email-

"We are discussing the details with our chief editor, since she thinks it might be too open in China. I will keep you updated."

And then, silence. No more Marie Claire. No revolution. At least not this time….

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

New Video! Dancers Among Us, on Wall Street

I've photographed many of the top dancers in New York City, and they almost all like to jump. Ade Chike Torbert, of So You Think You Can Dance fame, doesn't jump, he EXPLODES through the stratosphere, and he can do it again and again. And again. And again (as you can see in this video). And he's about the coolest person I've photographed!

Dancers Among Us: On Wall Street from Jordan Matter on Vimeo.

If you'd like to purchase a print of the resulting image below, visit https://www.jordanmatter.com/rates/purchase.php.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Crashing Barnes and Noble

This week I had a spontaneous shoot with Durell Comedy of the prestigious Limon Dance Company. Here's how it happened. Durell saw me interviewed on NBC, discussing Dancers Among Us. I mentioned that I had worked with all the major dance companies in NYC. This understandably ruffled his feathers. He posted a comment on Facebook that basically said, "No you haven't!"

Durell's schedule is as crazy as mine, but fortunately he had a break from rehearsal this week. We didn't have time to make any plans, and we couldn't meet until 5pm in Union Square. So that meant about 30 minutes of daylight to conceive and execute a shot worthy of a Limon dancer (yes, I'm kissing his butt- I'm no fool).

Close to the subway station sat an accordion player named Phillip. This looked promising.

I approached Phillip and told him my plan. "I'd like to take a photo of a dancer playing your accordion. And I'd love to borrow your sunglasses as well." He had a dance background - how lucky for us! I asked Durell to play the accordion as if he was rocking a guitar solo with Van Halen.

I loved it! This is not an easy thing to do - that accordion is really heavy, and his leg is really high! I wanted a little more crowd interaction - someone for Durell to connect with. Phillip was looking a little lonely, so I asked him to be the audience for once. He seemed to enjoy himself.

The sun had set, but we were having too much fun to stop. I suggested crashing Barnes and Noble. We stood outside and discussed ideas, and I asked Durell if he could levitate over a laptop. The fact that he'd never tried it didn't stop him from nailing it on the first practice run. I ran around in circles, giddy with excitement - this could be really cool!

We found an empty stretch of carpet in B&N and set up the shot. After about two minutes we were told to stop. "You have to get permission from corporate headquarters to take photographs."

On to another floor to try again. There was a book signing about to start, featuring Joy Behar of The View. A crowd had gathered. I reluctantly asked permission to shoot Durell on the podium, entertaining the audience - I wanted to crash the stage, but Durell is a member of a very prestigious dance company, so he really can't risk negative publicity.

"You have to get permission from corporate headquarters to take photographs." So we went around the corner and replaced the computer with a book.

This photo is especially fun for me. Durell is looking at book of photographs by Richard Avedon. The page is opened to this image.

Look familiar?