Jordan Matter – Dance Photographer


– Hello, and welcome to
the i3 lecture series, hosted by the Masters in
Digital Photography Program at the School of Visual Arts. We are thrilled to have
photographer Jordan Matter as tonight’s guest speaker. His work has garnered a
cult following online, with over 300,000 Facebook fans and 37,000 Instagram followers. Jordan is the author of the
New York Times bestseller Dancers Among Us, a collection of photographs of dancers in everyday situations around the world, which was selected as a Best Book by Oprah Magazine, Barnes
and Noble, NPR, and Amazon. Jordan has been featured on television’s ABC World News with Diane Sawyer, The Today Show, The BBC,
and The Tyra Banks Show, among other publications
including the Huffington Post, Dance Magazine, and Dance Spirit Magazine, Jordan is currently working
on two follow-up books, Dancers After Dark, and
Tiny Dancers Among Us, forthcoming by Workman Publishing in 2016 and 2017 respectively. He also has a show of
photographs at the 92nd Street Y, for another month-and-a-half? – Yes. – For another month-and-a-half, which is currently on view. So, please help me give
Jordan a warm welcome to our lecture series. (applause) – Thank you. All right, do we need this? I don’t know. Can you hear me okay? All right, how many of
you here are photographers or want to be photographers? Most of you? Okay, great, so we can talk about that. If anybody has any questions throughout, please just ask me. I’d like to start off
with a self-portrait. Now, you know that hardest
thing about self-portrait is timing your jump with your iPhone. I’d love to look like that. I’m gonna show you what a
day at my office looks like, to start, and then we’ll have a chat about how this all happened. – I was a little nervous at first, because you never know
what to expect with Jordan. I may be flying through traffic, or diving past a moving train. You never know what it’s gonna be. (“Dancing in the Street” by
Mick Jagger and David Bowie) – That’s pretty cool, actually. – This was so cool. Wow, huh? So, that was released on the
day that the book was released, and it helped, I think, generate sales. The way that this process worked is I would go around to various cities and then photographers would contact me and ask if they could join me, and I’d say, “Just bring a
video camera and film it,” and then we compiled that for that. I’m gonna, I have a lot to say, so I know I only have two hours, so I understand, so I
will rush through it. I am gonna start with the one quote that guides my entire life and definitely my photographic process. And I just love that,
because what it talks about is taking chances before you know what the outcome is going to be. I’m gonna tell you a little
bit about how I became a photographer. I was a baseball player in college, and then I became an actor after that, which is kind of also an
adrenaline-themed kind of career. And I was doing that for a while, and then I went on a bike ride
up to the top of a mountain and I saw that. This is in Cadillac Mountain in Maine. And, I saw this view, and
I really wanted to know how to take a good photograph of it, but I realized I had no idea. So, on the way down the mountain, I decided to take a
photography course to learn. And I took it at SVA, as a matter of fact. It was a black and white printing class, way back in the day,
before there was digital. And the first picture
I ever took was this. And it really grabbed me. I don’t know how many of
you have had this moment, but when I saw that print
come up in the developer, it was like a hallelujah moment for me. And I suddenly realized
this is what I wanted to do. But how was i going to do it? So, I carried my Pentax
K1000 around for a while, you know, doing street photography, and I started realizing,
you know, I’m a waiter. And a lot of actors are waiters. So, I started photographing
actors for their headshots. But I was doing it a different way. This was the first headshot I took, of a hostess at City
Crab and Seafood Company, which is now defunct, recently. And all headshots at the
time looked like this. And they were black
and white studio shots. And I started taking people
out into environments and doing environmental portraiture, and they look like this. I don’t know if anybody’s seen Spotlight. Have you guys all seen Spotlight? He’s one of the stars of Spotlight. It’s a phenomenal movie,
by the way, just side note. If you haven’t seen it, you should. And so, I was just, you
know, using environment to kind of help determine
their type and to suggest type, and we would just go
around to various places and shoot them. It’s an awesomely fun career, by the way. And as I was doing all
of these photographs, one day I was playing with my son, who’s this little guy. Now, he’s not that little anymore, but when he was three,
I was watching him play with this toy bus. And he had this level of
enthusiasm for his fantasy life that I realized I didn’t share. And as he was getting more excited about whatever it was
going on in his head, I had this sudden realization. You know, as adults, we kind of bypass the small, everyday moments
in search of the big things. And I wanted to create a body of work that might show the everyday
in a beautiful, exciting way, and I suddenly realized,
wow, I could use dancers to show how beautiful
the everyday could be. But I had never photographed
a dancer before. So, the first thing was to find them. I had just done the portraits of someone with the Paul Taylor Dance Company, and I asked him, “Do you
think some of your dancers “would be interested
in doing this with me?” They had never heard of me, because I had never taken
a single dance photograph, and I had no idea that they were also one of the top ten dance
companies in the world. But, fortunately, I got
them on a period of time when they were off. And about eight or 10 of them volunteered to start walking around
the streets with me in New York City as I
was trying to discover what this project was. The first shot that we ever took was this. And then later that day, I took that shot. And I thought, “Oh, now this
is something kind of cool. “I’ve never really seen this before.” Like, you know, he’s hailing a cab, but he’s doing it in this
beautiful, exciting way. And I started getting excited. And I started taking
more pictures like this. I showed them to a friend of
mine, who’s a photographer, and he said, “Well, wait a minute. “This is not a long lens project. “You’re not blurring out the background. “This is among us. “Where’s the among us? “You gotta get some people out there.” So, I went out of my comfort zone and I grabbed a 28-millimeter lens. I called the initial
inspiration from Paul Taylor, and I said, “Let’s just go on the subway “and see what we create.” And that is when I really got excited, because then I thought,
now this is a story. It makes the everyday beautiful. It’s something that we can all relate to, the moment of commuting,
trying to catch a train. And I spent a lot more
time shooting with them. And fortunately, I saw this
photograph by Richard Avedon, and it inspired me to grab
another one of their dancers and wait for a rainstorm,
and I took this picture. So, that, I had this life of shooting
them for about two months. And I put together a large
body of work of their dancers. And this is a thing that I
did that I don’t recommend anybody do. But, I sent them all to
Paul Taylor Dance Company and I said, “Here you go. “These are your photos now. “You can have them for free. “I just want you to appreciate them “and maybe show them at your shows,” and this, that and the other. They absolutely loved them. They couldn’t believe this
gift I was giving them. They said, “Thank you very much,” and then Paul Taylor, to my great fortune, said, “No thank you,” because
they were not of his dances. They’re just of his dancers, and he wanted to represent his company only in his own
construction of his dances. So, they passed. And then I thought, well the
whole reason I was doing this was to give them to Paul Taylor, so now I don’t know what to do with them, and it kind of died, and
I thought I was done. But this photo was selected by PDN Online as Photo of the Day, and it just struck the right
chord at the right moment. And all of a sudden, it went viral. And I got several emails,
lots of emails, actually, from people who were interested. And the Daily News wrote
to me, and they said, “Can we put one of your
pictures in our paper?” I said, “You could do that. “Or, you could come with
me on a day of shooting, “and we’ll go to places
we’re not allowed to be, “and maybe I’ll get kicked
out and get in trouble, “and you can document the whole thing.” Which they did. And so they, instead of doing one photo, they did a four-page spread. This is what that looked
like, all from shots we took that day, except that one. And at the end of the run,
it got even more interest. I was fortunate enough to
have the only literary agent in all of the world who
reads the Daily News. And he read that issue. And he called me up and said,
“I think this can be a book.” And this is how he would do it, because he’s a well-known agent, and therefore, he could
get me into any publisher. Now, I don’t know how many of
you have tried to have a book. I had a book before that
I had to self-publish. It’s really hard. A photography book just doesn’t sell, and they’re naturally
inclined to not like it. So, he didn’t tell them anything. He would only say, “I’m
bringing somebody in. “You need to see these photographs.” And this is how it would go in every case. We would lay them out for the editor. I would bring in about 25 11×14 prints, and these people all loved the photos. “These are different. “These are great. “Man, we gotta do a book on this. “I’ve never seen anything like this.” A couple of times, they
even laid out some spreads in front of me. Two people cried, which
was wild to see them crying about these pictures. And I said to my agent,
“Are we gonna get a deal?” He said, “There’s gonna be a
crazy bidding war on this.” And then, in every case, the
publishers sent them back to their sales departments, and the sales departments always said, “Pass, this will never sell. “Who wants to buy dance photos, “especially all set in New York City?” Because at that time,
I had shot everything in New York City. So, we basically assumed
it was completely dead. Months later, I got a call
from Workman Publishing, who I had ironically met before, but a different division of Workman. And they said, “We’d like to bring you in “and maybe discuss a calendar.” Why did they even call me? Because a junior editor at the time had seen one of the pictures online, and it made her happy. So, she hung it up in her cubicle, just to keep herself happy every day. And people would walk by
and say, “Oh, that’s neat.” And she’d say, “We should
really talk to this guy.” They’d say, “Nah, dance
photography,” and they’d pass it. Eventually, this junior
editor was so determined to get me in the room, she said, “What about a calendar? “Just meet him for a calendar.” They brought me in for the calendar, and at time I said,
“Well, what about a book? “We’ve been talking to
people about a book.” And they said, “You know,
they’re beautiful pictures, “but dance photographs of New York City, “nobody’s gonna buy that.” I said, “That’s okay, because
this summer I’m gonna travel “around the country,”
which was a complete lie. I just didn’t wanna hear no again. So, I lied, and they
said, “Well, that sounds “kind of interesting.” And I had to, at that point,
go around the country. So, the first shot I took
was this one in Maryland. And I sent it back to them, and they were like, “Oh, okay. “Now this is good, this
makes sense to us now.” And then they signed me up for a book, and I spent a year traveling around. That’s what the video was,
shooting for everything. And then, when the book came
out, to my great fortune, it became a New York Times Bestseller, and that was the cover. I then went back, a year
later, to that very same spot that I had started on Cadillac Mountain, and I took my landscape photo. So, it’s been a really incredible run, because the success of the book has afforded me so many opportunities. I’ve gotten to travel the world. I’ve had calendars. It has sold a ton. It’s in its eighth or
10th, or something printing at this point. And I’ve had exhibitions everywhere, and it’s just a really
miraculous, exciting journey that even leads me here. I’m going to show you some of the photos from this project and tell
you exactly how they happened, because they’re kind of
difficult to make happen. Now, you have to remember, first thing, there’s no PhotoShop in
any of these pictures. So, I mean, okay, some
people get particular. Yes, we color-corrected and all that, but there’s no manipulation of the images. What you see is what actually happened. And I was very determined
to do it that way because I think there is a lot of cynicism about photography now. You look at a picture and you
just don’t believe it’s real. So, I’ve had people film
me so that we can prove that it’s real. And I wrote about it in the book. So, they were actually able
to do this thing in one take. It took 55 tries to get that one take. And the problem with this, this is an extremely
difficult thing to do. Here’s how it went. Now remember, leap and
the net will appear. Everything I do is serendipity. I never have a plan. I just have dancers meet
me wherever we meet, and then we go out and I just look around, and I try to figure it out, and I’m looking for a story to tell. So, I had them all meeting
me in Rockefeller Center, because it was the holidays. And as I was walking
there, I saw this building, the Cartier building. I thought, well that has
to be the background. But what is the story? And I was walking to meet
them, I saw this guy here, and I asked him if 20 bucks
made it into his pocket and not the pail, would he
stand there for 15 minutes and let me take a photo. And he said, “Sure,” and
it turned into an hour, which is why I think he
looks a little pissed off at this point. So then I went over to
the guy and I said, “Okay. “I’ve got Salvation Army. “You’re donating to the
Salvation Army, that’s the story. “What can you all do in unison?” And one of them said,
“Well, we can do this.” These are five guys from
the Broadway show Newsies. Now, what is this? I’m going to show you what this is. And I’m not gonna do
it as well as they did, because I just don’t wanna embarrass them. But they would basically get
on their hands and knees. Now, they had my money
in their right hand. I said, “You can’t let go of that money, “because that’s like two dollars.” So, they had to push off and then land with their left hands. What they would do is they
would go down here like this and then I’d go, “One, two, three,” and they’d go, “Yah!” Right, in slow motion
that actually looks good. Extend out, and then
land on their left hand. Eventually, they did this 55 times. Of the many challenges were
getting them all in line at the same time, jumping
at the same moment, having nobody behind them,
no cars, nothing behind them, no pedestrians walking in front of me. There was a huge crowd
at this point, watching. There was a security guard behind me, trying to stop me from doing it because I was blocking his doorway. And these are some of the
times they didn’t work. 54 times they didn’t work. There would be something
behind them, of course. Or people, that’s a killer. Look, they nailed it,
and then those two guys. Now, you know that we could
retouch that out, right? I would just take a flat shot of this, and then you could put each
of them in there individually, but we didn’t do that. We had to get it. The cab of course, but
would often happen is, four of them would nail it
and then usually this dude was a little low, and I’d have
to back and I’d have to say, very politely, “I know this
is hard and you’re hurting, “but you’re just going a little bit late “or a little bit early, whatever
you’re doing is not right.” So, we kept doing that. People would walk in the shot, you know, they were giving it away with their legs. This one is so close, but you can see a couple of their hands are
like, “I’m not gonna make it, “I’m not gonna make it.” This one was extremely close, except his face is blocked
and the hands are down. And then finally, we got this shot. I didn’t know if we had gotten it. And I went over to talk to
them and give them notes, and then I saw there was a
little blood on the ground. And I said, “What’s that?” And the guy in the green,
he held up his hand, it’s bleeding, he says,
“I’m fine, I’m fine, man.” And I normally would have
said, “Okay, let’s keep going.” Except there was a German
television station, RTL, filming this whole thing
for a bio on the book, and I couldn’t have them
film me and see me say, “Yeah, keep going.” So, we just luckily got that,
I didn’t know we’d gotten it. There is a video that they
made, or you the thing they, I’ll just show you what this
looked like in real time. (upbeat dance music) People, traffic, getting all the dancers in
line in the exact same pose, the people walking behind them, the shot, the traffic, the security guard that wants me to stop. It’s almost impossible. We’re gonna get it, though. Ready, let’s do it again. Here we go, you can do it. (upbeat music) All right, here’s another shot. There’s a dancer named Michaela DePrince who has a movie called First Position about her life, as well
as a few other dancers. And she’s just a remarkable story. She was from Sierra Leone, and her parents were killed. She was brought here
by an adoptive family. She was always told she
could never be a dancer because she is black, and the ballet world just
doesn’t like that, apparently. And also because she has a skin disorder, so she has white spots all over her body. But she has become one of
the most celebrated dancers in the world, and there’s gonna be a
movie about her life, and a bestselling memoir
is being made into a movie. So, she’s really remarkable. I had the good fortune
to have an hour with her in Massachusetts a couple years ago. The only idea I had as I
was driving down this path, I thought, oh this path
would be interesting. Maybe you’re hitchhiking. I asked her to bring a backpack, and that was the extent of it. We got there and we started
working on something. And that’s the story, right? There she is, she’s kind of bored, she’s sitting like this,
and there’s a backpack. And it’s perfectly nice and
it was going pretty well. And then a car drove by,
trying to get past us. And out of the backseat of the car, a dog stuck his head out. And I suddenly realized,
well, that’s the shot. So, I chased down the car
to get the dog, saying, “Excuse me, excuse me,
can I borrow your dog?” And they’re like, “Okay.” Turns out this dog is Central Casting dog. Like, I could have looked
high and low for months, and I wouldn’t have gotten
a better dog than that dog. But the problem was, I wanted
them both looking forward. She did this jump maybe 50 or 60 times. Every time the dog might look forward, or the dog would jump,
but she would miss it, or whatever, I would miss it. Then eventually she said,
“Can I try a different pose? “There’s something I think I could do here “that might be interesting.” I said, “Sure,” and she did this. And that just blew my mind. We still had to get the dog to sit still. Now, you know, once again with PhotoShop, I could easily take
just one picture of him and say, “Thank you very much,” and just plop him in whenever we’re done. But that’s not the way
we want it to happen. It had to happen in the camera. So when we finally got this moment, and I’m sure you’ve all
had this experience, I saw in the camera and
I realized it’s perfect. And then I just froze for a second. “Please be in focus.” Because, you know, Nikon
is not always consistent and reliable with their focus. And then it was in focus, and we had a very big celebratory moment. It was very exciting. And that picture has gone very viral and has been seen everywhere. The only picture that might equal that, in terms of popularity
from the shots I’ve taken, was taken a few months ago in Chicago. And that really doesn’t need
a whole lot of explanation, other than how in the
world does she do that. And I was doing a lot of other
shots throughout that evening and she was a part of it. And then at the end she said, “I have this little party trick I do. “I don’t know if you’d be interested?” And she said she could balance en pointe on a wine bottle and she
had brought the wine bottle. I said, “Okay, how?” This is the shortest shoot I’ve ever done. I looked at it last night,
it was two seconds, okay? Here it is. There she goes, right, she’s ready to go. This person’s running out. One second later, she hits that pose. One second later, she’s falling off. One second later, it’s shattered. So, we got the shot in two seconds. One more Dancers Among Us
shot I want to show you is also kind of unbelievable. And this is the idea of being flexible. One of the reasons why I
really like serendipity so much is that I met this woman in Philadelphia, and we were shooting. It was pouring out and very cold. And she just felt like it was too cold to be able to do anything good. So, there was a hotel
right nearby and we went in and we said, “Can we use your bathroom?” And then we just snuck around
until we found something. And then she told me she
could do this crazy thing if we found just the right walls, that she would be able to
put herself in that position, but we still had to get the key, because there still has to be a story. So then, somebody walked by and I said, “Can I just,” sounds a little creepy, “borrow your key for just two minutes?” while we take this picture
and then she was able to just hold herself up there for two minutes. So, this exhibition at the 92nd Street Y has a lot of photographs
that are blown up very big on aluminum. They’re gorgeous. I was suggest you go look at
it if you like these pictures. I am going to take you
to the next body of work. There’s a video that
will introduce it to you. – [Voiceover] Jordan,
before you play that, I have a question. In situations like the Salvation
Army or the Joffrey Ballet, once the picture is made, does
it ever come back to that? Do they, like the Salvation
Army, might use that picture, or did that dancer actually
belong to Joffrey Ballet, or? – Oh, okay, no, she didn’t
belong to Joffrey Ballet. It just happened, the thing that was great
about that was, you know, we were saying, well where could, we were a block away. And I was like, “Okay, that sounds cool, “but where could we possibly shoot it? “What are we gonna do? “I don’t know, it’s just in
the middle of the street, “I don’t know.” And I’m turning in
circles and then she says, “Um, there’s a ballet company right there, “like one of the most
famous in the world.” So, we put that there. I have no idea if they’ve ever seen it. Just like the Salvation
Army, I don’t know. And the deal with rights is, you know, I couldn’t put that in an
advertisement without their okay, or without the okay of the wine bottle. Same thing with Salvation Army. You can’t use it for advertisement. You can’t put it on the cover of a book or the cover of a calendar, but you can put it on
the interior of a book, because they can’t really make an argument that you made money on their image, since there’s about 200 pictures in there. So what’s happened here is
the book was very successful, as I said. So, it went from “You’re
not gonna have any luck having a book,” and then it went to, “What’s our next book,
what’s our next book?” And so I tried several
things on the Among Us theme. So, I shot Athletes Among Us. And I shot Circus Among Us. And they were cool shots,
and you can see the websites, and the publishers liked them,
but they didn’t feel excited. Then I started working on a body of work that I never considered to be a book. And I’m still shocked that
they’re gonna make it one. I just did it for my
own personal interests, because I loved the process, and because I thought it
was visually different, maybe it would go in galleries, whatever. And it became this. This video was made by a company that does original content for iPhones. They asked me if they
could just follow me around for one night of shooting this new project that I’m gonna show you now. (upbeat piano music) First of all, this isn’t
necessarily a legal thing that we’re doing. Take dancers naked, outside
at night, in public. I don’t plan shoots, I just,
my mind doesn’t work that way. I am freaking out right now. We have to get that shot. – Shit, shit, go, go. – Would they have called somebody? We have to do it again,
it’s not perfect, yet. It’s almost like, how
much courage do you have? I think this is our chance, now or never, and we just have to do it. Oh shit, shit, shit. Here comes the officers right now. I’ve got bail. I’m Jordan Matter. I’m a photographer in New York City. (upbeat dance music) We’re on our way to St.
Patrick’s Cathedral, when I look over and I see that column in Rockefeller Center,
and it’s illuminated. I mean, when you get a sign that tells you that you’re in an iconic spot, include the sign in the photo. If I can get a dancer right
in the center of that thing, that could be pretty spectacular, but there’s a ton of security
in Rockefeller Center, and there’s tourists all
over taking the same shot I wanna take, so I don’t
know how we’re gonna do this. This is great, because I
am freaking out right now. We have to get that shot. At some point, there’s
going to be a moment. And when that moment comes, I’m gonna want Harper
to just rush that thing, and get in and out
before security sees us. We see a break in the crowd. Harper has to just take his
clothes off and rush up. Hit it, hit it from right there. Go. Don’t panic, hit it. Do it a couple more times. One more time. Get down, get down, get down. – Oh my God.
– [Woman] It’s perfect. – [Jordan] He jumped up
there and put his foot right in the center of that sign. And that’s what makes the
shot, that he’s dead center. – His energy is contagious, and you feel how excited he is, so you’re like, “Yeah, I’m excited, too. “I wanna do this.” – If you thought that was hairy, what we’re about to do is like, crazier. – I’m so excited right now. – We’re right next to
St. Patrick’s Cathedral. There’s no reason not to do that now, but this is hairy. This is literally the scariest
location I’ve ever chosen. If I’m not terrified, it’s
not gonna be a good shot, and I am terrified of
St. Patrick’s Cathedral. This is 10 seconds. You need to just drop ’em and hit it, and we have to beg the
heavens to keep us safe. It’s kind of that thing, right? There are video monitors,
there’s 24/7 police surveillance. I have absolutely no idea how
we’re gonna get this shot. No, right, that’s not gonna work. I can’t find this photo. I don’t know. Let’s go look at the other thing. Where are we gonna put these dancers and still get the scope of
the cathedral in the shot? I’ve gotta find an angle
that gives me both. I crossed the street, I came back. I looked around the side,
but it’s none of that. It is dead center, right
there on the stairs. Because if you’re not
there, it’s not scary. We do this once, I hope it’s
in focus, we get out of here. It’s very important to
me that this doesn’t look like exploitation, that I’m not saying, “Haha, we got naked in front
of a famous cathedral.” I want it be like you’re kind
of giving yourself to God, in a way, and then if
people have an issue, at least we’re able to say this
is what we’re trying to say. I want the pose to be some sort of thing with a lift and a bend, as if
it’s just washing over them. That, that way, just like that. That’s the pose, okay? For some reason right now, there are no police in front
of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. They’ve practiced the
pose a couple of times. I’ve adjusted the
lighting, I’m ready to go. We just have to shoot
it and see what happens. Is everybody ready, go. Right in the center, one
step forward that way, go. It happened so fast, that you don’t even
realize it’s happening. I’m not thinking anymore
if there’s police. I’m not thinking if there’s pedestrians. I’m only thinking I’ve got
about a 15-second window here to take this shot and make it good. Come down. – [Voiceover] Oh, that’s pretty. – I need to do it again, are you ready? I turn to them and I say
we gotta do it again, and the look in their
eyes was like, “Oh man. “I thought we got it.” But they were up for it,
they were ready to go. There’s no time to ask questions
or ask them if it’s okay. We have to do it again,
it’s not perfect, yet. Hit ’em, hit ’em hard with the light. Hold it. Hold it. Done. This time I had my game
a little bit more on, and they still nailed their game, and the pose that they
hit was just spectacular. – Oh wow, I look so skinny. This is my first time in New York, so, doing everything like sightseeing
and what most tourists do naked was pretty thrilling. Two photos in the bag and I’m thinking, “Well, where do we go next?” Now they’re adrenaline addicted, so we’re gonna go to
Grand Central Station. As soon as I walk in, I see
the Great Hall and the clock and the windows and the iconic spot. The police officers are right there. Security is everywhere. So I figure, let’s keep it above security and get them low, below the barrier, so that people won’t even see them. It just looked like a cop-out. It looked like I was scared. What if we weren’t trying to hide you? Is this the best, or is
it just we’re doing it because we’re trying to hide her? – I feel like this is a pretty shot, but it’s not like, “What?” I suggest we walk around
the perimeter of the room, and see if we can find one
spot where they’re hidden. It’s a question of if it’s gorgeous enough to take a risk with all
this security around. We have to be out here, like there’s no, I don’t think there’s any hiding it. When we try to hide around the corners, it just doesn’t have the
magnificence or the daring. It was pretty clear that Raina was the one that was gonna do the shot. And she’s always been up for anything. She turned to me and she said, “I’m an international student. “I could get deported, and
I’m nervous about that.” – I don’t know if I have the
balls to sit there, butt naked, with all those cops around. I’m not American. – I thought we’d be done, but I said, “Let’s just look around.” At the very least, let’s
go back to the spot we saw. That was almost completely
private with the spotlight. This beautiful hallway had a
spotlight from a chandelier shining down on it, and it
was obviously serendipity, because the location is
more beautiful than anything we’d seen before. Okay, okay, listen guys, are you ready? Go. On your spot, look at that light. Hold it right there. She held it for a long time,
but a guy was on the balcony and wouldn’t leave, and
was just staring at her. And it kind of killed
the whole shot for me. And as soon as it was empty,
we did it one more time with the same pose. The second time, it rocked, man. It fucking rocked. – Once I get in a pose, all
I hear is “Hold it, hold it, “hold it, hold it, hold it, hold it.” Nothing around me matters. Just the pose matters and if we’ve got it. – I got that shot. I just did this moment where
you just hold your breath and hope it’s in focus. I hit the zoom, it was sharp as a tack. (rock music) We got it, ooh! Wow! Ha! Group hug. That was amazing. Before tonight, I was certainly
burned out on New York, not gonna shoot here anymore. Now I can’t wait to get
back on the streets. I don’t know where I’m gonna go next. I only know that I have to
equal what I’ve just done, and that’s not gonna be easy. (upbeat music) (piano music) So yeah, that’s different from Dancers Among Us. I’m going to take you
through one photo shoot that was documented by a
wonderful photographer, so you’ll see some behind-the-scenes stuff to kind of tell you what
the process is like, more specifically. This happened just about two weeks ago. Anyway, i was at the gym,
and I had this sudden thought of a big group of naked ballerinas in pointe shoes and buns in
the middle of the street. And then I thought, the next
thing was, fuck, that’s hard. How am I gonna do that? And the weather report told
me that the following evening was going to be the one
moderately warm night of the foreseeable future. So, I started trying to gather ballerinas, many of whom I’d never met. I showed up in Barnes
and Noble in Union Square to nine dancers, ready
to have this adventure. Now we had to figure out,
well, what were we gonna do? I don’t, like, research poses,
research anything, ever, but I don’t research poses, because I don’t wanna
be constrained by that. Like to come in with an
idea that doesn’t allow us to kind of come up with
something collaboratively. So instead, we went right
outside of Union Square, and we just started trying
to figure out the pose. And I had no idea, so we started
building it piece by piece and there was a lot of assistants
that were there to help, and everybody was chiming in. And I’m a really big believer in let everybody have an opinion, you know. You’re not just holding a
light, you’re collaborating. The dancers are collaborating. And we started to put together this pose, and somebody suggested that it would be like a wave with their arms, of water. Now, to make it even harder, you know, because this is a project of naked bodies, but if you want to have anybody see them, then most of them have to be covered. So, all the important parts, and I’m just gonna use
technical terms here, but butt crack and nipples, you can’t see them if there’s any chance of putting them on Facebook or Instagram. So, I told them, in addition
to this very difficult thing we have to do, we also
have to come up with a pose that’s gonna cover everything. So, we started rehearsing. As you can see, we started
working with this water flow in their bodies and connecting them all, and how do we cover everything? And this took a couple of hours, at least, to come up with it. And then eventually we thought,
okay, we have the pose, now where are we gonna shoot it? I figure, well, let’s go to 6th Avenue and do it right in the
middle of the avenue. We went over to 6th Avenue,
and it’s kind of ugly, you know, the avenues in New
York City are ugly and dark. And in this case, it
was particularly ugly, because it was just this gross pavement. And I thought the only place
that has beautiful pavement, and since this is such a wide shot, the pavement’s gonna be very important, is the meat-packing district. And it was a Friday night. I don’t know if any of you go
to the meat-packing district on a Friday night, but
that’s not the kind of crowd you want to have nine naked women in. But we went there. So, we went to meat-packing district. We found this, I mean, it was so busy. It’s this spot right here. And they start practicing it. And it’s the only spot
that’s not an actual street, but it’s surrounded by streets all around, so there are four
different openings of cars. And there are police driving by and not, this is an exaggeration,
every two or three minutes. Now, let me talk a little
bit about the police, because this is illegal. And I’m not an adrenaline
junkie in that way. It’s not like I’m trying
to push the limits and get arrested, or anything like that. But I photographed a police lieutenant and I asked him, “Okay, these
are the photos I’m taking, “what’s the risk here?” And he said, “You know, look. “Cops are municipal workers. “They just wanna do the least
they have to do and get home. “And I don’t see anybody
giving you a hard time, “unless they’re looking for overtime. “So, if you’re unlucky
enough to find somebody “looking for overtime,
you’re gonna be in trouble.” I had one experience right
before this in Innwood, where I was photographing a young woman. I thought we were totally hidden. Next thing I know,
there’s three police cars, and six cops get out. There’s sirens blaring
and they’re all around. They asked me, you know,
“What are you doing?” And I try, “Art project,” blah blah blah. And he said, “You know,” and he got stuck. “You know, this lighting is illegal,” because I use a rotolight. I don’t know if you know
it, but it was on the thing. I said, and this was a
mistake, too, don’t do this. But I said, “Officer, I’m
sure you know the law better “than I do, but my understanding is “if I have a tripod, then I need a permit. “But if I don’t have a tripod,
then I think it’s legal.” And he said, “Okay, then
why don’t you go downtown, “and you can discuss that with the judge.” He turns to the woman and
says, “Do you have ID?” And she said, “No, officer,
it’s back in my apartment “around the block.” He said, “You’re coming downtown, too.” And he was taking us both
downtown to arrest us and give us summons and all that. Then I said, “I don’t
wanna make this worse, “but a lieutenant friend
of mine gave me this “and said to give it to
you if this happens.” Now, there’s six officers watching, and I handed him a thing
called a Courtesy Card. A Courtesy Card is kind of like
a Get Out of Jail Free card, but I had never had to use it before. And he looked at it and said,
“Oh, uh, Lieutenant Walker. “Where does he work? “Where is his precinct?” I said, “It’s in the Bronx.” And he said, “That’s interesting, “because Precinct 607, last
time I checked, was Brooklyn.” “Oh, well, I don’t
know, but he’s a buddy.” And so then they all
conferred and then they said, “All right, you’re good,” and then told us, “Don’t
ever do this again,” and then we left. So now, I’m here, and I’m
feeling a little more bold, because I’m like, well are
they gonna arrest nine women? I mean, that would be crazy. But still, you don’t know, and the police are driving around. So, we keep practicing it. It’s freezing at this point, by the way. And we’re just trying to get, now the way you do this project is you get down to very little,
but whatever’s legal, and you take the shot,
you practice the shot. In this case, everybody
was noticing, of course, all these naked ballerinas. They were stopping, they
were talking about it and everything, and
watching all over the place. And what would happen is we
would shoot it for a while and then we would gather, and we would look at the picture,
and they’re shaking cold. And then what happened,
we did a few takes of it. And it started to rain. And then everything was better
because it starts raining. All of a sudden, the
beautiful cobblestone street was getting wet, illuminated,
and we’re out there, and this is what it looked
like when we were shooting it, from behind. And they kept getting colder and colder, and I would look at it. And what would happen is one
of them would slightly miss. It would be like eight
of them are nailing it, and one exposed her
breast just a little bit, or one wasn’t en pointe just enough. And we’re pouring rain now. We’re looking through
and we say, “I’m sorry, “we just have to do it again.” And the thing I always remind myself is, they’re gonna hate me now, but tomorrow when they’re
warm and they’re fine, they’re gonna want a beautiful
picture of themselves. And I just keep trying
to remind them and myself that that’s the case. We have to keep pushing
it until we get it. And then finally, on the ninth try, and each shoot was about one minute, and every time we’d shoot,
they’d throw their coats on and a police officer would drive by. It was the most incredible luck. We never got caught. And on the ninth shot, we got that. And that was fun. All right, so now I’m gonna let you guys help me with something. So, we’re in the midst of
putting this book together. They have started to work on the cover. Like, what’s gonna be the cover image? And this is hard, because you can’t show
any nudity on a cover, and it’s a book of naked people. So, they’ve mocked up a few covers, and I have three finalists for you, okay? So what I’m gonna do is I’m
gonna show you all three. And then I’m gonna go back
and I’m gonna have you each applaud at whichever
one you like the most. And then I’m gonna tell the publishers this was the unanimous favorite, if there’s a unanimous favorite. You gotta applaud at one, at least. Okay, so here’s the three covers. Okay, nope, don’t start clapping. Did you see the three? Everybody have their turn? Okay, so we’re gonna go, tell me your feelings on cover number one. (applause) Okay, cover number two. (stronger applause) Can’t tell a difference. Cover number three. (applause)
(cheering) That one wins, it sounds, right? We’d agree that one won? Okay, good information to
come back to them with. – [Voiceover] School of Visual Arts. – [Jordan] School of Visual Arts, yes. – [Voiceover] Educated community. – Educated community, there you go. All right, thank you for that. All right, so, now here was the thing. The publishers were anxious
to do a follow-up book and they signed on. Now this Workman
Publiishing does things like What to Expect When You’re Expecting, and, what else? You know, all of those
How To books, right? Dancers Among Us was a big departure from anything to do
with a photography book. To then do a book of nudes,
even if they are semi-nude, was a real departure. But they signed on because
we really hadn’t come up with anything after a couple of years. Then the next day, I came up with an idea, after they had signed on and said yes, I said, “I’ve got another idea for you “that I think would be really great. “So, could we work on this, as well?” And let me show you a little
video of what that is. (peppy music) So, that idea came to me
because I was shoveling snow in my driveway, and my
daughter was helping me. And then I said, “You just look so cute. “I’m gonna take a picture.” And when I grabbed my camera, because she, you know, she doesn’t really do dance, but she’s seen me do this,
and then she did that pose, and then I thought, “Oh my
God, Tiny Dancers Among Us, “how did I ever not think about this?” But the thing was, when I
was doing Dancers Among Us, I did reach out to several kids. And what they did, was
okay and it was cute, and a couple ended up in the book, but it wasn’t really spectacular. So, I didn’t really know
anything about competition dance, and I didn’t know really how
incredible these kids could be. But if you imagine, this is
my five year-old daughter. And just imagine that since she was two, she had been practicing
dance six days a week, three to four hours a
day, and she was now six. This is what she could do. And so suddenly I was realizing, wow these kids are
really unbelievably good, and it’s the same idea of taking
them out, finding a story. And the thing that’s unbelievable, I mean, I have two kids and I think,
man I cannot imagine them putting three or four
hours a day into something, and the amount of commitment
that these kids have to what it is that they
wanna do with their lives blows my mind. And it’s really like you
can’t do that with your feet. It’s just not right to be
able to bend back and do that. Or, this. So, I had however many kids that is, and I had a couple of hours in, why can’t I remember where I was? And we all went in for cookies. And then, you go in for
cookies and you realize, well, this is really photogenic, and next thing you know,
we’re constructing a shot, you know, kid by kid. Let me just show you, I’ll show you, this was in
Miami a couple of weeks ago, and I’ll show what this looks
like just very, very quick. All right, when you’re ready, let it rip. Okay, so that was just a
little slow motion Instagram. By the way, always making
videos along with your photos is pretty fun, so I’ll take
shots of kids, you know, and this took us maybe 30 jumps to get? And then I say, “Okay,” and they’re done, and then say, “Okay, now we
gotta do it again for video.” And then sometimes, when
your work gets out there, what’s exciting is you kind
of inspire other artists to create stuff based on your work, and that’s what this is. So that’s Tiny Dancers Among Us. That’s coming out in 2017. Next year, I mean this year in October, Dancers After Dark is coming out. And even as I speak, there
are dancers gathering here or downstairs, and we are going out for a Dancers After Dark adventure, and I’ll tell you guys, I have no idea what we’re gonna do. And there’s gonna be six or seven of you, and I’m looking once
again, middle of an avenue, or sidewalk, or in the snow,
or something fun like that. So, that’s how it goes. You get people and you
just kind of put yourself into the situation and trust that when you’re in the situation, you’re gonna make something work. And I think the biggest
thing that stops people from creating something special is that they just say no rather than yes. And just to end on this thought, Dancers Among Us I shot for
about six months or a year, or more, before there was
any interest from publishers. And Dancers After Dark, I’ve been shooting for a year-and-a-half. And in almost every case, I
always struggle with the idea, “Do I go out today and do this?” I mean, I have a day job. I do portraiture, that’s
what pays the bills. I could just go home and
then I could see my kids, you know, and I could kiss them good night and play with them. And so many times I make
the decision, instead, to go out and to create something. I don’t know where it’s gonna go. And that commitment to
sticking with something that excites you, even in the low times when nothing is working, you just stick with it
and just keep going out, and it does become something. It’s almost in the doing
of it that you find it and discover it. If you try to look for
the end goal too quickly, you might never discover it. It’s like Human of New York, right? Everybody knows that. A year, think, every single day, he had 3000 Facebook fans
at the end of a year. Walked around every day,
interviewing people, no idea where it was gonna go. Now we all know where it went. But he had to go out
there for a year, first, and do it every day. Every success story that you hear starts with people
committing to something, even when nobody else believes in it. And so, if you have an idea, commit to it, because it will become something special. And then you get to come
here and talk about yourself, which is awesome. That’s it, those are my
Facebook and Instagram, if you wanna follow me, I post every day. And I’m ready for, I kept this under an
hour by eight minutes! ‘Cause I said, “Oh it
might go a little longer,” and he was like– (applause) Thank you very much. – [Voiceover] We have
time for a quick Q&A, plus eight minutes extra. – Eight minutes, that’s
one question for me – [Voiceover] Okay, I’ll
pass around the mic. It’s not gonna make your voice louder, it’s just for the video,
but please use it. – [Voiceover] Hi, I love your work. I used to be a dancer, so I
really appreciate what you do. My question is, as you work with dancers, do they have to sign model releases, or what is that legal
procedure that you have? – I had an attorney draw
up model release, yeah, and they sign it after every shoot. And it basically gives me
rights to do anything I want with the photos. I don’t have people in the
background sign releases, ’cause it’s really hard if you’re shooting hundreds of pictures. And I do know, once again,
that if you put anybody’s image on the cover, or on the
cover of a calendar, or in an advertisement, you
have to have the release. But it’s street photography, so if they’re caught in
the background of a shot, in the interior of a book, there’s nothing they can do about that. – [Voiceover] Hi, I’ve been
following your work for a while, and like, I love it. I’m a sophomore here at SVA. I’m a photo major. And I’m really into dance photography, that’s what I want to do. But I was just wondering how you recruit all your dancers and how
you get more followers and stuff on Instagram. – I don’t know if everyone heard her. She said two things. First, she said, “Wow
you’re really really cute, “I’m sorry, are you married?” (laughter) And then after she asked
me how I get the dancers. So, yeah, I’m sorry, too,
because you’re also really cute, and it could have worked out, like, I felt something. And then, for the getting of the dancers, when I first started, you know, I would have to approach people. At this point, fortunately,
I have a really good social media presence. So, what I’ll do is if I’m, I’m going to Austin next week, and I haven’t posted about it yet, but I kinda posted I might come and I got dancers that way. Usually I’ll just post and
say I’m gonna be in this city or this town, and then people submit. And with Dancers Among Us, that’s really not a challenge at all, because also, now, for dancers, their reality is, they need
to be posting every day to be relevant on social media, right? So they’re doing so many selfies. But if they can get a
free shoot of themselves and get some cool pictures for themselves, they want to. Very easy trade-off. I have been surprised how many people have volunteered for Dancers After Dark. Could you just stand up
for a second, please? Please, just stand up for a second. I would like to just introduce everybody to this beautiful woman. Look at her. Okay, first of all, this is the
third time she’s doing this. I mean, I can’t even believe it. A beautiful dancer and a woman like this will come out and say, “I trust you.” It’s really an honor. Okay, thank you. (laughter)
(applause) – Like she’ll be like
naked, she’s like yeah! But you know, when we met, she’s like, “I don’t really wanna do that,” and next thing you know,
now this is her third time. And the thing is, it’s an
incredible amount of trust, it really is. And so, I just appreciate
and respect so much why they do it and what they do it for. And really, that book is about
a celebration of dancers. It’s not supposed to be
gratuitous in any way. The whole idea of it is, you know, each of us will have a passion. And we may spend 10,000
hours on that passion. But you can’t see it etched in our bodies. And when they go out there in public, and you see their muscles, and you see what they
can do with their bodies, you realize that to succeed, you need to put in that kind of effort. And not only that, but then being outside, and being in public at night, it kind of shows the whole
vulnerability of dreaming big. And you know you may fail, but if you don’t dream, you’ll never know. All those cliches. So, that’s what the book is about. And I’m really excited so
many people are willing to come on board and do it. And then the kids, man, well, that’s all about their moms, and that’s a little weird,
I have to be honest. And I’m not generalizing. There’s never been a dad. I’ve never met a dance dad. But, the moms they control
the kids’ Instagram account, you know, so then they’ll be like, “I had such a great
time with you, Jordan!” And you know the mom wrote that, and the whole thing is bizarre. There’s one shot, I just remembered, just to give you an idea
of how hard these kids are pushed sometimes, where last winter, I
think it was last winter, it’s just freezing. I don’t know if you remember. I had these three dancers
on the Hudson River, like right next to it in
the ice, and it was gusty. I was still treating them
like they were adults, because I was used to adults. And one of them started shaking and she was turning blue and she’s like, “I have to stop.” I said, “That’s totally fine. “The car’s right there, go in
and get warm, go in there.” And her mom went, and I said, “I’m just gonna keep
shooting these two kids “for just another second,
but you did awesome.” Her mom comes in and she goes, “Do you want your friends to
be in the book and not you?” Right? And then two minutes later, she comes out, like, “I’m ready,” and her mom goes, “I knew you could do it,
I knew you were tough.” It’s like, oh God, that’s weird. So, I feel for the kids
a little, you know? If you ever go to dance competitions and you see all the makeup
they wear, it’s really bizarre. But when you get them out of that context, they really do love what they do. And obviously, they have this joy for it that’s really contagious. Long answer, but I have
eight extra minutes. (laughter) (speaker off microphone) Did, oh, I missed that
because of the cute thing. For the keeping up social media, there’s several things about that. You have to be posting regularly. I haven’t done SnapChat yet. I know one has to, I just,
it’s just exhausting. You know, ’cause that’s
like documenting everything all the time. But, you know, building up a presence is really about two things, I think. I think one is always being relevant. I just wrote an article
for a photo magazine about viral images and how that happens, and there’s certain things, I think, relevance is one of them. So, if you post something,
like there’s a winter storm and you post a photograph in the storm, it’s more likely to get a lot of attention than if you post something
on a sunny day, right? And the other thing is
about something I think that people feel good sharing. So, you want imagery that
people won’t just like, but they’ll also want
to show their friends. And usually, though not always, there’s either a shock value to that, or there’s a cute thing, or there’s a beauty thing. So, there’s a lot of projects out there that are dance-related
projects, Ballerina Project, and there’s a lot of other photographers who do dance photography. And basically what they do,
it’s all kind of the same thing. But they do a lot of really
pretty pictures, you know. So, they’ll go out somewhere
and there’s a pretty picture on Fifth Avenue. There’s never really a
story, but they’re pretty, and they’re usually always women. Almost, if not always, women. And they’re always shared like crazy. But I talked to one of
those photographers, and they said, “You know,
it’s really hard to know “if I’m a good photographer, “because all you have to
do is put a pretty picture “of a ballerina, and people flip out.” But he doesn’t know if it’s good enough to go to that next level and have a book, or have an exhibition, because they all kind of
blend into the same thing. So, my suggestion would be to not jump right into the same thing, but find a different twist on that thing, or to find something different altogether. There’s one photographer,
I’ve forgotten his name, getting a lot of play right
now, because he, what? (speaker off microphone) No, I know that name, it’s
not dance photography. Somebody in San Francisco or something. Anyway, he does wedding photography. So, how do you separate
yourself out from the pack with wedding photography? So, what he does is, he takes his couples and does a formal with
them on the top of a cliff. Always the same cliff,
and it’s always scary. And it’s gone majorly viral. How long he’s gonna be
able to reproduce that, because it’s the same
photo over and over again, but it’s always exciting. Another guy I just read
about, he’s doing nudes, but his thing is, he does
nudes in all 50 states. And here’s the thing that’s really interesting
about promoting yourself. A lot of it has to do with your process. It’s almost as much as the photo itself. So, the video I showed you
about Dancers After Dark, the process was, I think,
as exciting to watch as seeing the photo. And if you see the photo
removed from the process, you might not appreciate it as much. So his whole thing is,
he does a naked shot in an abandoned building in
every state in the country. But it’s that story, he
took out his backseat and he put a bed in there, and it’s just this romantic idea of going across the country, and that’s what everyone talks about. So also, that’s where video
comes in really, really helpful, is videos tend to go more viral than photographs, and it’s because people like
to see your process a bit. – [Voiceover] Do you sell your photographs in limited edition prints after it’s been published in a book, and if you do, what is that process? Are all of them for sale,
and are they limited, or do you just let the book do it? – Yeah, I do sell. I worked on Dancers Among
Us for maybe three years, and I never even saw the images this big. I only saw them on a computer screen or in a 9×12 book. And then I had an exhibition in Korea, and it was a contemporary art museum. It was three floors, 60 images. They printed them all. They flew me out to Korea
and I walked into the museum for the first time, and I saw
these 60, 70, 80-inch prints, and I thought this is how
it’s meant to be seen, because you can see the
little details in everything, you know? So it’s very exciting to see the prints, and that’s what the YMCA is. I just had a big show at
the Hudson River Museum, and the day that closed, they brought the prints
to the 92nd Street Y, and in February, there’ll
be a show at Lincoln Center. And when you see them big, and I print them all on aluminum. Aluminum is a really great material, it’s less expensive, it’s easy to hang, they’re very light, and
they have a lot of pop. Black and white and color
both look great on aluminum. (speaker off microphone) Yes, for those, yeah, usually
about 15 for each size. Everybody knows about
limited edition, right? So, once you’ve sold all 15,
you can never sell it again. Has anybody seen the famous series called The Last Sitting or The Last Session? It’s by Bert Stern of Marilyn Monroe? So, I have one of those. It’s the only big
investment I’ve ever made. It’s in my studio. And then she died two days later. These beautiful prints of her,
semi-naked, black and white. They’re very popular,
they’ve totally sold out. So, I went to Art Basel last
year, you know Art Basel? And his estate had a huge booth, but it didn’t make any sense, because they were all sold out. So, why did they have a huge booth? Because they took the same exact prints that everybody’s already bought, and they added in a color on the rose. So, now, you can buy an edition of 25 with a yellow rose,
red rose, or blue rose, which really devalues
the whole idea of it, retouching a shot from the ’50’s anyway. So, you can always find creative ways, or you do like 60 1/2 inches now in a whole new edition,
people will do that. Another thing about photography right now, everything is photo
manipulated, basically. So, if you go to one of
these huge art shows, like Art Basel, and you just walk around and you see all the photography
that is being presented, almost all of it is photo manipulation. And so, I finally saw this huge print, say twice the size of this, of John Kennedy on his
sailboat in a storm. And it blew my mind, because
I’d said to the gallery, I said, “This is just magnificent,” and he said, “Isn’t it, though?” I said, “Finally, I find a photograph “that is absolutely real
and stunning on its own.” And he said, “Well, this is a composite.” The guy had never
photographed John Kennedy. Somehow he found a
photograph of his sailboat and a photograph of Kennedy, and he combined them together. So, that’s what happened. So, I think it’s also, another thing, if you’re gonna go with
photo manipulation, make that your thing. But if not, then try and
really find the true form of photography, because
people really appreciate real, honest moments. – [Voiceover] Could you
tell us what cross street the Y is on? – Lexington and 92. The Y is on 92nd and Lex. – [Voiceover] You mentioned
towards the beginning how you started photographing dancers without ever doing it before? So, you pretty much were
letting them do all the work, as far as poses and moves. Have you become more
acquainted or more familiar with the terminology of dancers, so now you can direct them better? – I can direct them, but I
don’t know what to call it. Like, I’ll say, “Do a split jump,” and you’ll say, “What, what is it?” Like, I don’t know. I know what I want, and
I knew what I wanted from the beginning. The thing was, since I was an athlete, I was approaching it more
from that perspective. So, the early shots are more
about the athletics of dance. And I would say, “You’re hailing a cab “and it looks like you’re
running, or something.” And then they would show me some things, and we could, but like I said, I think
it’s really important, the dancers know their bodies. So, a lot of times, we’ll start with, “What’s your strength? “Let’s start with your strength. “We’ll tell a story around your strength.” I’m asking somebody to jump, and they’re more about flexibility, then they’re not showing
off their strength. And you always wanna try
and find that wow thing. One thing that helped me a lot, before I’d ever shot a dance photo, I had a group email for all
the Paul Taylor dancers, maybe 10 of them, and I wrote to them. I said, “Thank you so much,
we’re gonna do it next weekend. “Listen, I’m not sure,
yet, what you should wear, “and I’m torn between everyday
clothing and leotards.” And then, within seconds, I
got eight emails that said, “I’m not wearing a leotard.” So, how lucky was I? Because then that took, if they’re all wearing leotards, it’s not at all the project. The idea is that they’re everyday life. They’re just like us, it’s just they’re a dream version of us. And if they hadn’t been
so adamant about that. So, that’s the kind of thing, you know, you listen to the people that know best, and then you take that and you try and make it into something. – [Voiceover] I know
that you find the image once you get to the location, but I guess my question is, what is your set up like in
regards to gear, lighting? What are you bringing to the shoot? – Until this series of After Dark, I’d never used any lighting. And I travel with this, only, like anywhere I go, it’s this. So, in that is two bodies. One is just a back-up that I never use. And then, six lenses. And it’s the three zooms, all at 2.8, 28 to 70, 70 to 100, and 14 to 24, and then three fixed lenses, like a 50, 85, and 28, all at 1.4. And that’s pretty much it. Then, I just kind of look for light. I don’t like to manipulate
the light that much. Also, it’s very cumbersome if
you’re bringing strobes around because most everything I’m trying to do, I’m trying to get out of there quickly. I mean, even in the daytime, usually the most interesting locations the ones you’re not allowed to be in. So, what we’ll always
do is practice the pose somewhere else, and
then, you know the quote, “It’s better to ask
forgiveness than permission.” Every time I ask somebody
if I can do something, except maybe the exception
of that cookie shot, but almost everytime, the
answer’s no, knee-jerk no. And I think that’s a lot
about life, isn’t it? It’s like you have this opportunity. You come up with an idea, and
then your first inclination, is it yes or is it no? Are you half full or half empty? And if you say no,
you’ll never discover it. And if you say yes, you might
discover something special, and I’m just shocked at how
many times people say no for no reason, other than
it’s easier to say no. So, I’ve just stopped asking. – [Voiceover] Hi, I like
energetic power in your pictures. I thought dancers look comfortable and are having a fun. How did you do they dance
comfortable in front of you? – That’s a great question. A couple of things, I think. First of all, I think
dancers are really used to being told exactly what to do. And there’s not a lot of collaboration if you’re in a dance company. The choreographer comes in and they say, “You’re gonna do this, this is your move. “Do it again, no you’re
wrong, do it again.” And I try to bring them
into the creative process. So, the first thing is we work together. I start with a question. “Okay, we’re here, this
is a cool location. “What do you think you’d be doing here? “And how can we tell that story?” So, they’re right off the
bat engaged with the process. And then secondly, I
just absolutely love it. It’s such an adrenaline high for me, that I do think they get caught up, as the one guy said,
there’s an adrenaline thing that you get caught up in. And when you get a great shot together, I mean, everybody celebrates,
and it’s a lot of fun. So, the process is fun. And now, at this point, people
have come in expecting that. So, they are already kind
of loose and ready to do it, because they’ve heard, or know people that have done it, and
they know it’s been fun. Early on, because my process, it’s like I go to Chicago,
people will drive six hours, or get on a flight halfway
across the country. The girl that’s on the wine bottle, drove in from Sacramento. Then, the next morning, drove
back, to do a photo shoot. And then she shows up and says, “What are we gonna do?”
wide-eyed and excited. I said, “I don’t know.” And that can be a little disturbing. Like, well, “I just
committed my day or my time “or my money to come do this, “and you don’t even
know what we’re doing?” And for a while, and like
you know, even tonight, I don’t know what we’re gonna do, and there’s like seven dancers that are expecting answers,
and I don’t have them, yet. And after a while, you get used to, early on I’d say, “This is
the process, don’t worry. “We’re gonna find it, the
picture’s just around the corner. “Sometimes you have to walk.” To get to the meat-packing district, with the girls en pointe, they all walked in their pointe shoes from Barnes and Noble to
the meat-packing district as it was starting to rain. And I didn’t know, if we
got there, what we’d find. And it was freezing. But, it’s all part of an exciting process, and I think people are pretty sure that I’m not gonna stop
until we get a cool shot. And so then they are reassured that they may have to spend some time, but in the end they’re gonna be happy. – [Voiceover] Thank you. This is very inspiring
and infectious and great. And I wanted to ask you about
being true to photography and not manipulating too much. You mentioned in the very beginning that you manipualte a
little bit of the color, and to what extent and how? – So, what sort of photo
manipulation do I do. My knowledge of PhotoShop
is pretty limited. So, I like to shoot it flat, because then you have
more latitude, you know? So, you don’t wanna blow
out your highlights. So, when you look at the
picture in the camera, it looks flat, but I love
pictures with a lot of contrast. But if you shoot with a lot of contrast, you’re gonna lose your
highlights or your shadows. So, it’s about shooting it flat and then popping up the contrast, and bringing in more color, primarily. I do, unless it’s tricky. If there’s something
like that ballerina shot, I had somebody fix that, because separating the
foreground and the background was challenging, so they
didn’t get caught up in it. But pretty much I do everything else. (speaker off microphone) – [Voiceover] I’m very
sorry, is there a possibility that I might have seen a shot here that the front image,
the dancer is very clear, and the entire background
is pretty blurry. That wasn’t with some of the rest of them, so maybe, is there a possibility
that you chose to do that? – Oh I did, yeah. It’s just the lens setting. So, I wouldn’t like shoot everything sharp and then blur it out later. That I wanna see in the camera. – [Voiceover] Thank you for sharing. I really appreciate it. I feel like I agree with
the young man in the video that you’re energy is
infectious and contagious. Going back to how you started the talk, about the sort of cynicism
that exists in photography, and we don’t sort of
trust images right away, because we’re so used
to seeing composites. I mean, your work is sort
of a celebration of joy in the everyday moment, and the reaction must be all positive, but do you get anything negative with your big social media presence? – Yes, there is negativity. More so for the After Dark stuff. But even, you know, I mean, people can be cruel to each other. A lot of times the
negativity is to each other. Like, “Oh, she didn’t point her foot.” Or, “Wow, look it, her
knee’s a little bent.” And these are kids, and other kids are, so there’s these commentary
back and forth on the photos, which is really upsetting to me. In terms of the photos, every
once in a while, you know, you’ll hear something. But for the most part,
it’s been pretty positive. One of the things with social media, you have to kind of make a choice, right? Whether or not you put stuff out there and allow people to grab it. And I’ve had some really
particularly bad experiences with photos going very viral, but nobody had any clue that I took them, because I wasn’t
watermarking for a long time, or just in a corner and
it could be cropped out. This one time, I do have the distinction of crashing a porn site. And what happened was, there
was this Dancers Among Us, this site that did soft
core porn and other stuff. But you can imagine how
much bandwidth they’d need for the soft core porn. They put up the entire
gallery of Dancers Among Us. Every single photo, without
any credit, whatsoever. And it went extremely viral. It was just like ballerinas
in everyday situations, which was ridiculous, because
they weren’t all ballerinas. But it went very viral, and
I’m still feeling the impact of that today, where shots
are going from all over, everywhere, but they don’t know that, and there was a book out,
and they didn’t credit it. So, that can happen a lot. But I think that if you’re
not putting it out there, and not letting people see it, then you’re never gonna build
the presence to begin with. It’s a tough call. I don’t even know if that
was part of your question. Any other questions? Awesome. Well, thank you very much, this was fun. (applause)

3 Replies to “Jordan Matter – Dance Photographer”

  1. Jordan you and Omar Z Robles are the reason I'm trying my hardest to find dancers to shoot. I want to thank you for your amazing work.

  2. I think this is the best series highlighting creative photography. No gear, no sponsors, just inspiration and clear thinking.

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