"You got a gun in that bag?"
I was at the Houston Gun and Knife Show with Connor Walsh, principal dancer from Houston Ballet. I was desperate for a Dancers Among Us photo, but the huge sign above our heads might be a little problematic.
NO GUNS! NO CAMERAS!
(I didn't know you couldn't bring a gun into a gun show)
"No sir, I don't have a gun."
He stared down at me. I'm 6'3", so that's not easy to do.
"You got a camera?"
I briefly considered lying, but he was standing like eight inches away from me, staring me right in the eyes and not blinking.
"Yes, I have a camera."
"Is it a small one?"
"No actually, it's pretty big."
Were we still talking about my camera? He stared for a few more seconds.
"Just don't use it in here."
Connor was looking a little apprehensive. I already had three confrontations with law enforcement that day, so I was feeling very nervous as well. We went outside to discuss our plan. Of course, I had to give it a shot. "Let's just do it. What's the worst that can happen? I don't think the guns are loaded."
Just then I saw a cowboy crossing the street with a rifle in his hand. "Excuse me, can I borrow your gun for a photograph?"
He looked dumbstruck. I tried to explain about my book, that I'm traveling the country photographing dancers in everyday situations, blah, blah. We weren't connecting.
"No, you'll run off with it," he said as he walked away.
"No I won't," I shouted after him. "I'll give you my wallet as collateral."
It worked! He handed me the rifle, which was surprisingly heavy. With gun in hand, Connor looked every bit the cowboy. Except one thing could be better.
"Can I borrow your hat too?" I asked.
"No way. It's a $1000 hat."
"Really??", I thought. "Okay, he'll use his own hat, but I need you in the photo."
He agreed. I asked Connor to do a split jump and framed up the photo to include a silly sign. In my mind I titled the shot, "Right to Bear Arms"
Once inside the gun show, I realized how challenging this would be. Security was everywhere. My heart was pounding. As Connor was changing into lighter pants, I found a perfect location. Unfortunately, I couldn't do any test shots. We just had to wing it.
I asked Connor to hinge- bend back while elevating on his toes- aim the rifle in the air like he was shooting a bird, and smile. I waited until the coast was clear, grabbed my camera from the bag and whispered, "Go!"
Click, Click, Click, Click, Click, Click, Click, Click. Eight photos, ten seconds.
We reviewed the photos in the bathroom. They were good, but we both knew he could bend farther back. The show was just ten minutes from closing, and people we starting to clear out. Less protection. We tried again.
His hinge was great, but there was nobody in the shot with him. The place looked empty. It needed something intangible. Come on, Photography Gods, you're always with me on this. Where's my unexpected moment that completes the story?
A security guard was walking towards us, though he didn't see us yet. We were going to have to stop and settle for what we got. Damn.
Then I saw it. A family with a baby in a stroller, headed our way.
"Wait!! Do the pose again! Hurry! Something might happen in the background."
Connor hit his pose. I whispered directions ("Shoulders down.. chin up.. smile!!") and watched the story unfold behind him.
Visit www.dancersamongus.com to see which final image I chose for the Dancers Among Us book. You can also see many other Dancers Among Us photos, very cool behind-the-scenes videos, effusive press clippings, and lots of naked people (I threw that last one in for effect).