Concept Photography of Dancers: Meet The Bird

I love dance photography.  I have been a dancer, a teacher, and then a dance photographer for most of my life.  I grew up watching for the next cover of Dance Magazine.  I stared at the pictures in the programs of the companies I longed to dance for.  The shapes and emotions always connected my soul to another level of beauty and contagiousness.

Over the last years I have worked really hard to become as good at what I do as possible.  Forever fine-tuning lighting, the things that make a dancer shine on my canvas, the business side of running a thriving, working photography studio in NYC.  And then I realized, I was starting to miss the connection to the soul of what I was doing.  Working with dancers for their power, passion and physical technique is a piece of what fulfills and motivates.  And there is more.


The more – the full soul connection – means finding a way to start telling my own stories.  The element I often see missing from dance photography and marketing is the emotional content, the narratives, the reasons why we are drawn to dance as a connective art.


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Dancer Jorge Villarini meets a bird in flight


With this in mind, about 2 years, I started experimenting with a new body of work that drew together my love for dance photography, surreal illustration and narrative story telling through imagery.  And I’m excited to share that I’m ready to introduce that work to you now.


To start off the series, I’m talking about one of my favorite shots, ‘The Bird.’  The idea for The Bird came to me while I was driving to work on a bright blue, sunny morning.  With U2’s Beautiful Day blaring on the radio, I started thinking about what it might be like to be a bird in the sky at that moment.  That thought rolled through my head, running from the ‘well it must be beautiful to feel free’ to the ‘what would it feel like to run splat into those windows at night’.  And then I thought about the dancers I shoot, how we spend so much time working up jump shots just for the technique and joy of them… but what if we had a dancer meet a bird in flight, out of the blue?  And then what if the birds happened to look the same, like a person meeting his doppelganger? It’s almost not out of the question, dancers leap regularly, and birds do swoop low to check us out near the ground.


And so, the idea for the shot was born.


Creating this image of dancer and bird was challenging in many ways. It took about 3 weeks of research to find the right taxidermy bird (it’s an African Worler, and yes the bird in the image is real).  On the day before the shoot, the makeup artist we had booked canceled on us day before the shoot (and you can imagine it’s not easy to find someone who can do this type of body paint).  I managed to find Jaime Gruber within about 12 hours.  She was a godsend and just amazing to work with.


Jorge Villarini, my friend from Dance Theatre of Harlem, was required to stand for the 6 hours it took for the makeup to be done!  Jorge was one of the most professional dancers I have ever worked with.  When I talked with Jorge about the concept and sent him a picture of the bird, he came prepared having researched birds and their movements so that he could more accurately move like one.  We must have shot only about 200 shots and almost every one of them was stunning.  I will be eternally grateful to him.


Here’s a peek into what the shoot was like, here are some outtakes from the session, I hope you enjoy!


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We’ll be rolling out more of these Behind the Scenes descriptions of our conceptual photography work over the next few months.  Thanks for taking a peek – check out more on my website.
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