Steve Wylie Photography | Jordan Matter's "Dancers Among Us" Redux

Jordan Matter's "Dancers Among Us" Redux

October 05, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Back in March, in one of my first blog posts here, I wrote about a fantastic opportunity I had to work with Jordan Matter, who was working on a three-year effort to publish a book based on his "Dancers Among Us" project.  It was a fantastic opportunity to watch Jordan at work, and to contribute to the project by bringing him two amazing local dancers I know, as well as to scout, suggest, and coordinate locations for Jordan while he was here in SoCal.  There was only one caveat; I couldn't release any photos that I took that might be similar in composition to those that Jordan made, prior to the publication of the book.  Well, the book comes out later this month, and just today, Jordan released the names of the dancers whose images will be included in it.  So I conclude from these two facts that it's now okay to show you what we were up to on those two days.  These photographs are mine, not Jordan's.  Some were made to give Jordan something he could use for his own purposes (showing him at work).  Others were shot alongside Jordan, or from a different angle.

The first location I suggested was the famous entrance to Grauman's Chinese Theater, with the handprints and footprints of Hollywood's elite.  A shot of a dancer in Fred Astaire's or Ginger Rogers' handprints would be cool, and Jordan agreed.  So here's Kevin Williams doing a handstand, but in Jack Nicholson's handprints.  Why not Astaire's?  Because Fred Astaire had these little bitty hands, and Kevin dwarfed him.  Here's Jordan shooting Kevin in one of about 100 takes, before security kicked us out. 

After Grauman's, Jordan wanted to consider a location in the Hollywood Hills where there might be a sweeping vista of LA.  I knew just the place, so off we went, and Jordan captured Jamila Glass hanging off a fenced-in communications tower with LA in the back.  I don't think this shot made the book, but I do believe that Jamila, who went out to Joshua Tree with Jordan the day after we did this, will be in the book.  By the way, it's a long way down below Jamila.

When I first contacted Jordan about this opportunity to work with him in LA, I had two high school dancers in mind, Lauren Rauen and Caitlin Pulone, both of whom could easily perform the kinds of amazing leaps, poses, and characters that Dancers Among Us embodied.  Jordan envisioned an out-of-work actress in front of the iconic Paramount Studios gate on Melrose Avenue, and I knew that Lauren was the perfect dancer to pull this off.  So I made a sandwich board of a previous headshot I made of Lauren, and a stack of 8x10's for her to hold.  Jordan amped up the concept by asking Lauren to hold them in both hands as well as one foot.  We ducked into an alley so Lauren could get comfortable doing this very tricky pose in the middle of the street, and when she was ready, out we went.  She performed flawlessly.

Jordan wanted to photograph Caitlin in a bookstore, and I suggested Book Soup on the Sunset Strip.  It was long after dark when we arrived, and Jordan talked his way into shooting Cate on a bookshelf ladder.  The staff at Book Soup was more than happy to accommodate us.  I put a pair of reading glasses on Cate, and here's what we got.

It was a long day of shooting, and we got back to OC after 11:00.  Time to crash and burn, because tomorrow would be another long day.  The first location I had suggested to Jordan was the Walt Disney Concert Hall.  I had photographed Cate there on a previous occasion, and it was a sample from that shoot that got Jordan interested.  So we met there, along with a bunch of dancers who had responded to Jordan's casting call.

We met in front of the WDCH and Jordan briefed the dancers on how the day would go.  While Jordan was talking with the dancers, I made this tight profile of dancer Mysti Rose.

She would later pose in this partner shot with a male dancer whose name I unfortunately didn't record, in a location I had used with Cate previously.

Jordan is a very creative guy; one of the shots he envisioned at WDCH was to put this same male dancer up in a tree, reading a book.  Okay, a reasonable, kinda predictable shot.  But no; Jordan's concept was for him to hang upside down in the tree, reading a book.  Something like this:


From here, we went down to Skid Row, where Jordan photographed Terry Beeman in front of the Continental Hotel, not exactly the Ritz, where just a few days before, somebody got whacked upstairs.  This shoot was high-concept, and Terry pulled it off very well, first staggering (artistically) in the street, and later in this pose in front of the hotel.

One of the dancers we brought along that day was Melinda Marchiano, a young dancer from the Central Coast area.  Melinda loves dance, and she's a very good dancer.  What sets Melinda apart, though, is the fact that she's a cancer survivor and has published an amazing book on her experience.  It was her love of ballet that inspired her through recovery.  Here she is, down in the Toy District, with her book, titled "Grace".  The eerie, depressing mural provides a reminder of what she must have gone through on her journey back to health.  But Melinda is anything but depressed; she's an inspiration.


Moving through downtown LA in mid-day traffic can be daunting, especially when you're traveling in a caravan, with drivers who aren't that familiar with the territory.  Especially when you're pulling illegal U-turns in the middle of Skid Row so Jordan can check out a location.  Especially when you're two guys who are dancers, and acrobats, who don't exactly frequent Skid Row.  And especially when you get pulled over by LA's Finest, and get a ticket for said illegal U-turn.  That experience was enough to cause our two intrepid acrobats to depart the neighborhood for safer, more familiar digs.

Fortunately, we met up with them later that evening in Beverly Hills, at Two Rodeo, on the corner of Wilshire and Rodeo Dr.  I had suggested this location earlier, as it has a very European feel, with a winding walkway down a faux hill.  Jordan captured them at the prime location of this retail development and made a photograph before we got kicked out of this place, too.

Jordan Matter spent two more days in SoCal, but I had other commitments, and could not join him on those two days, as he photographed dancers in Venice Beach and all the way out in Joshua Tree National Park.  Nevertheless, it was an experience I won't soon forget, and one which has strongly influenced me in how I will approach my own location-based dance photography.

"Dancers Among Us" will be in bookstores later this month, and can be pre-orded through the usual online channels.  Check it out; it will change the way you think about dance and dancers.






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