Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Surprise Snowstorm in Seattle for Dancers Among Us

As the deadline approaches to deliver all my Dancers Among Us photos to Workman Publishing, my time in each city has become absurdly brief. Last week I had just one full day of shooting in Seattle and Aspen, and only a few hours in Greeley and Denver.

The lack of time was all the more daunting given the quality and quantity of my volunteers.

In Seattle, I had ten dancers from the prestigious Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB). We shot seven photos in thirteen frantic hours. It was a wildly successful day- one of the most productive cities.

I saved one location- and one PNB dancer- for the next day. Georgetown is a gritty industrial town on the outskirts of Seattle, and Ezra Thomson is a gritty kind of guy. It seemed like the perfect match.

I woke up to a light dusting of snow. I knew it was coming because everyone had been talking about it. Snow in Seattle is a very rare occurrence- a half-inch and the city shuts down. This mild smattering was certain not to stick.

And then the Heavens opened up.

I was in a full-scale snowstorm as I drove to Georgetown. By the time I arrived, we had very little time to shoot- I was due at the airport in an hour. As always, I was relying on serendipity to guide me. We drove through the downpour looking for a location. I thought I was looking for factories or graffiti or abandoned train tracks, but then we stumbled upon a junkyard under the freeway- it was love at first sight.

We had fifteen minutes to shoot. I asked Ezra to light a cigarette and to physicalize heavy desperation. The snow would be crushing him, a man lost and alone, caught in nature’s wrath.

It was almost impossible to shoot. My camera was soaked and fogging up. I couldn’t see anything. I set the auto-focus on Ezra and shouted directions. The focus kept locking on the snow rather than Ezra. He was slipping in the snow, literally beaten up by the storm. I grabbed a beer can from the street and gave it to him. I kept shooting until my fingers were frozen.

Three-hundred-and-thirty images I hadn’t reviewed.

I had no idea how the shots looked. I raced to the airport, disappointed by the outcome. I felt it had been too rushed, and that I hadn’t given him enough direction. The location and snow had been a gift, and I hadn’t capitalized on it. I was devastated.

On the airplane I turned on my computer, and I was blown away. Ezra had been magnificent. I hadn’t seen the beauty of his movement.

My favorite image came after I gave Ezra the beer and changed the composition to incorporate the freeway. He struck a beautiful, heartbreaking pose that said everything I had hoped to convey.

Thank you yet again, Serendipity, for always showing up in the perfect moments for Dancers Among Us. Next time though, you don't have to bring the full force of Mother Nature along with you.