Photographer Jordan Matter wanted to explore the concept of joy in everyday life. He turned to professional dancers and their graceful, joyous athleticism. The result is “Dancers Among Us,” a collection of sometimes jaw-dropping photographs designed to make viewers smile.
Judging from the response Matter has received — talk of a sequel is in the works — the New York photographer succeeded.
Question: Where did the idea for the book come from?
Answer: I was watching my son play with his toy bus. The level of enthusiasm was amazing. He was so invested in it. As we get older, we kind of lose that celebration and joy for the small moments of life. Around that time, I started shooting a member of the Paul Taylor Dance Company, and it kind of came together.
Q: How did you link those two things?
A: The dancer hired me to shoot his portrait. He said before I photographed him, I should come see a performance. I went and realized that the dancers are telling stories with their bodies. I decided I would use them to sell the story of everyday joy.
Q: But it’s not all Paul Taylor dancers?
A: It started with the Paul Taylor Company, but then it expanded to many more dancers in New York City, then dancers around the country. That’s what was really remarkable about it. I would tweet or Facebook what city I was going through, and there would be droves of dancers volunteering for me. On my first trip to Chicago, I spent five days there. Over 60 dancers volunteered for me. And it was all volunteer. No one was paid.
Q: Did you tell them what to do?
A: I’m directing with them. We came up with things collaboratively. One very important thing to remember is none of the images in the book (has) been Photoshopped. That’s hard for people to believe, so I’ve put a series of videos on the website (dancersamongus.com) to prove it. But a lot of shots are just serendipity.
Q: Did everything you shoot make the book?
A: That was the hardest part. At least half the photos I took, if not more, did not make the book. I felt bad. Somebody drives eight hours and spends the night in a hotel and their picture doesn’t make the book. But it didn’t have anything to do with the dancers. Sometimes it was simply that it would be too similar to another image.
Q: What kind of response are you getting from the book?
A: There’s a real joy to it. It makes people very happy. It puts them in a great mood. People tell me they look at it to get in a good mood. It’s a celebration of life, and they’re getting that. I noticed at book signings that people would leave with four copies, because they felt it would be a great gift book.
Q: Are you surprised by the attention?
A: I’m thrilled by it. At its core, it’s a dance photography book. It could be on a back shelf somewhere, but instead it’s been on the New York Times best-seller list. I appreciate that so much.
Dancers Among Us