I moved to Dallas in 1979 and was hired as a full time assistant for advertising photographer Chuck Untersee. After that, I freelance assisted while simultaneously visiting photo studios hoping to find a place that would take me in. Like most other assistants, I wanted to become a shooter and begin my career as a professional photographer.
As luck would have it, I happened into the studio of photographer Doug Doering. He looked at my work and offered to take me on as a junior photographer. This meant I would have use of the studio, lighting and equipment... and for that privilege, would pay him a percentage of any jobs I did. It was an incredible offer and I accepted immediately! Doug had a modest but very well appointed space and the centerpiece of the studio was a beautiful box light that he had made himself. It was on a rolling wooden stand (which was in itself gorgeous) with an electric motor to move the light up and down. The box was about 5 feet square and produced a gorgeous quality of light.
For me... it was a dream come true, because now I had the ability to light subjects in a way I never could before! Motivated and inspired by this stoke of luck, I approached the Dallas Ballet and asked if I might create a portrait series using their dancers. It took a bit of persuading, but I finally got them onboard. My visual inspiration came from the legendary work of Irving Penn and through the ballet company, I met a scene painter that agreed to paint a background for me. Below are some of my results!
The dancers pictured above are Andrea Howard, Rod Fukino and Marcella Shannon. I worked on the project off and on for about a month, photographing the dancers whenever they were available. What I found as I waded into the project was that I absolutely LOVED working in this manner. And by that I mean:
- Shooting in black & white
- Isolating my subjects on a background and...
- Using a single light source
The next group of dancers are Gloria Santos, Kurt Hathaway and Karen Travis.
In addition to discovering a way of shooting that resonated with me, I also began to learn how to use a single light source (because where the light is located REALLY MATTERS)...and how to engage my subjects in a way that would lead to creative and interesting poses.
The final three photos are of Christine Dunham, Cindi Littlejohn and Michael Hurd. Christine moved to New York a few years after these photos were made and eventually reached the top of her profession as a principal at American Ballet Theater! Am happy to report that I am still in touch with all three of these individuals via Facebook.
As the title of this post states, The Dallas Ballet project was the first portrait series I ever created! It was completely self assigned and as such, demonstrated who I was as a photographer. The essay was a strong addition to my portfolio and made an impact on Texas Monthly art director Fred Woodward. He remembered it and hired me a few months later to undertake a project photographing rural sheriffs all across Texas (stay tuned, I will feature this in an upcoming post). I used the very same background and the group of photos that ran in the magazine resulted in my first significant award (inclusion in the inaugural edition of the American Photography Annual).