Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Mega-Star Alex Wong Trashes Dancers Among Us

I was in Miami in November shooting Dancers Among Us when I saw this tweet-

"@jordanmatter: Love your photography and would love to shoot with you one day!" from a @AlexdWong

I continued shooting. Ten minutes later I received this email from Samantha Siegel, my social media consultant-

"I see that Alex Wong has reached out to you about shooting for Dancers Among Us-- do EVERYTHING in your power to make that happen!"

Then I started seeing passionate tweets from complete strangers commenting on the possible collaboration, urging it to happen.

I turned to the dancer I was photographing. "Who is Alex Wong?"

She looked at me like I had just said, "Who's this Obama guy I keep hearing about?"

"Alex is incredible. He was going to win So You Think You Can Dance until he tore his Achilles tendon before the final round. It was devastating. He's a huge star."

I really need to watch more television.

Once I started researching Alex, I got very excited. He's a tremendously athletic and beautiful dancer, with stunning lines and jumps to the sky. His background with ABT and Miami City Ballet gives him an artistry along with commercial dance.

I also learned that he had torn his other Achilles, and was in recovery. So what could he actually do? Guess I'd find out.

For some reason, the image of a streetlight at night kept popping into my head whenever I thought about shooting Alex. I couldn't shake it. We planned to meet one evening around Christmas in the West Village. I walked around looking for the right streetlight when I stumbled upon Minetta Lane, and here's what I discovered-

It had been raining, which added a nice reflection on the street and misty quality to the atmosphere. Alex started warming up. "I'm at about 50% recovery. I can jump, but I'll take it easy." And he proceeded to do a practice jump-

I need to do another shoot him again and see what 100% looks like.

I asked Alex to put on a shirt, grab a trash bag and throw it into the pile at the height of his jump. I'll call the photo, "Trash Night"-

CRASH!! The bag was filled with bottles. Maybe I should call it, "Recycling Night" instead. We grabbed another bag.

I loved the pose, of course, but I wasn't crazy about the composition. I needed to incorporate the alley more. He looked a little closed in.

We tried a few more throws.


"What the hell are you doin' down there?!?" came a mysterious and angry voice from a window.

"We're doing a photograph, sir. We're almost finished." I replied, trying to sound casual.

"Do you have a permit?"

"Of course." I lied.

"I hope so, because I'm callin' the police!"

This put a little cramp in my creative process. I liked the shots we had taken, but there was something missing. I didn't want to get arrested trying to figure it out, but I didn't want to leave either. Neither did Alex.

Then it hit us like a ton of bricks. Why had I asked him to put a shirt on?

"Can you take off your shirt and change your pants to add contrast? I'm going to switch to a wider lens so we see more of the environment. Plus I have to incorporate that streetlight, and get more blue reflection on the ground."

Three more jumps. CRASH!!! CRASH!!! CRASH!!!

I could just feel the guy in the window fuming (with good reason- it was after 10pm). We looked at the shot together and agreed that it couldn't get any better. We loved it- the pose, the colors, the streetlight, the reflections... THE BODY! We escaped before the police could add more blue light to the scene. A Dancers Among Us success.

I like this mega-star thing and I'm ready to do some more. Mr. Baryshnikov, are you available next week?

Postscript: Do you think I'm crazy enough to let Alex Wong leave with just one photo? Of course not. We went to his apartment (location undisclosed), and created one of my very favorite shots of the entire series. But you'll have to wait until 2013 to see it. Workman Publishing has asked me to keep it under wraps until the book is released. Believe me, it alone is worth the purchase price!