Tuesday, April 24, 2012

My Dancers Among Us Wishlist

As I excitedly count down the days until the release of the Dancers Among Us book by Workman Publishing this fall, I realize each day that passes means less and less time for me to capture the amazing dancers that grace the U.S.

So folks, it’s crunch time. There are still so many phenomenal dancers that I would love to photograph. To keep my eye on the target, I've collected a few names for this Dancers Among Us Wishlist, because there is nothing wrong with dreaming big:

- Aszure Barton
- Bill T. Jones
- Camille A. Brown
- Benoit Swan-Pouffer and Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet
- Desmond Richardson/Dwight Rhoden and Complexions Contemporary Ballet
- the Cast of Glee
- Gallim Dance
- Gus Solomons Jr.
- Keigwin + Company
- Misty Copeland and American Ballet Theatre
- Neil Haskell and the cast of Bring it On: The Musical
- Pilobolus
- Robert Battle of Alvin Ailey
- The Rockettes
- Savion Glover
- So You Think You Can Dance stars Nick Lazzarini and Travis Wall
- the stars of the Step Up movies
- Stephen Petronio

There are far too many celebrities who could bust-a-move for Dancers Among Us:
- Beyonce
- Channing Tatum
- Ellen DeGeneres
- Madonna
- Natalie Portman and Benjamin Millepied
- Taye Diggs

And of course, the God of Dance: Mikhail Baryshnikov!

I would be so incredibly honored to photograph you all as Dancers Among Us. If you recognize your name on my “wish-list”, or have any connections to make this happen, e-mail me at jordanmatter@gmail.com. If you are able to help, I'd love for you to accompany me on a shoot!

Until then, I'll be crossing my fingers, rubbing rabbits feet, wishing upon many 11:11's, and praying to the photography gods for my wishes to come true...


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Pizza and Pot on Venice Beach- Dancers Among Us Discovers Los Angeles Culture

Kayla Radomski's reputation preceded her- she was a very popular finalist on season 5 of So You Think You Can Dance. I was relentless in my pursuit of her before I visited Los Angeles last week. I desperately wanted to photograph her for Dancers Among Us, but I had no idea what to do with her.

She arrived at Venice Beach in the middle of a very busy and extremely productive day. We had about 45 minutes to conceive and create a shot worthy of her talent. I wanted to shoot her on the Venice Boardwalk, so I looked around until I found the best spot.

Great location for a photo! I liked the crowds of people, the Venice graffiti and palm trees in the background. Of course, I loved the marijuana sign. Then I asked Kayla how she was feeling physically. Her answer didn't need any words.

So far, so good. But what's the story? What is she doing there? I had no idea. Rollerblading, sunbathing, eating, blah, blah- everything seemed so obvious. Then I looked a little closer and discovered the answer.

She's holding a promo sign. She's working! My friend and collaborator Ivy Vahanian talked a pizza place into lending us their sign for five minutes- at most! Oh boy.

Fortunately, I had several more dancers waiting for me, so I recruited Laura Karlin and Mary Tarpley to hold Kayla in a split. I liked the idea of a team effort. This was no easy task for any of them, but it was worth a try! I asked Kayla to turn towards the sun and channel Vanna White.

Pretty cool shot, but it could be better. First of all, I realized that it needed to be a horizontal shot. I gave up my attempt to include the Venice graffiti- it was more important to show the activity around them. Secondly, I wanted Kayla's right arm to be waving to everyone, which was almost impossible- she needed it for stability.

Somehow, she managed. Ouch!

Very cool shot. I almost loved it. There was still an element missing, but I had no idea what that was. I only knew that I had just a few minutes to discover it, so we tried again. And something magical happened- about three seconds too early.

A skateboarder cruised underneath Kayla's legs before she was ready. Damn! That was it! That was the unexpected element I needed to complete the photo. Where could I possibly find another skateboarder in the next two minutes?

Oh right, this is Venice Beach- it's like calling Central Casting. Within thirty seconds we found the perfect volunteer. He hit his mark just as a bicyclist turned to look at Kayla, and right before her hamstrings screamed out in protest.

Thank you, Serendipity.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Dancers Among Us Shoots Guns in Texas

"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.


(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).