Jordan Matter Captures Dancers Like You’ve Never Seen Them Before: Naked on the Street After Dark

All photos ©Jordan Matter

New York photographer Jordan Matter first came to our attention when we saw a beautiful nighttime photo he made of a ballerina on a Manhattan street and did a quick interview. Since then, Matter has penned an article for Shutterbug on why 10 of his images went viral and helped us test the Canon 5D Mark IV before it was launched.

More recently, he published the stunning book “Dancers After Dark,” so we thought it was time to circle back with him to for more details about this fascinating and fun project.

In addition to his dance photography Matter also shoots circus performers and portraits for actors, models and corporate executives.

In the interview below, he tells us how he became involved in photography and goes into detail about the challenges of shooting the images for “Dancers After Dark.” Be sure to watch the quick video at the bottom of the page for the backstory on this unusual project.

Shutterbug:  Before we discuss your new book, tell us a bit about how you got started in photography.

Matter: I decided to take a B&W printing course after biking up Cadillac Mountain in Maine and realizing that I had no clue how to photograph the landscape. Once I saw my first print come up in the developer, I had a Hallelujah moment. I’ve been shooting ever since. I’ve published three books, including the NY Times bestseller “Dancers Among Us.” I’ve been exhibited throughout the world and profiled by, among others, NBC, ABC, CBS, BBC, the NY Times and Huffington Post.

Shutterbug: What was your inspiration for the “Dancers After Dark” project?

Matter: Dancers are dreamers. Many have left the comfort zone of a familiar life to pursue an ambition fraught with nearly impossible odds of success. They work countless hours over many years, driven not by profit or fame but by a quest to bring their dream world to reality.

Etched into their bodies is extraordinary perseverance, and when stripped of their clothing we see each layer of muscle and every subtlety of physical expression. They are an inspiring embodiment of intense commitment to a life's passion.

“Dancers After Dark” celebrates this optimism. There is no obvious reason why any of these amazing performers would volunteer for this project. During our shoots it was frequently very cold, usually late at night, typically exhausting, and often illegal. And, of course, they were naked. Yet they still said "yes." Why? Because they shared my belief that if we leap, the net will appear.

Shutterbug: Explain some of the challenges you, as a photographer, experienced shooting for this project. And give us some insight into the techniques you employed to make these amazing images.

Matter: The biggest challenge shooting on streets and sidewalks without a permit is the complete lack of aesthetic control. Cars and passersby were a constant source of frustration, as they are with any location shoot. To shoot at night I always looked for locations with ambient light so the dancer wasn't spot-lit.

I always tried to balance the light on the dancer with the ambient color temperature and brightness. If locations were potentially too dark (a river, for example), I would shoot at dusk. I preferred to use available light whenever possible, but I often needed to add light to pop the dancer.

I found that sidelight and contrast tends to be the most flattering for a dancer’s physique. Of course, with low light I usually had to rely on creative static poses, because often there wasn’t enough light to capture movement.

Shutterbug: How about some of the challenges faced by the dancers?

Matter: Their biggest challenge was usually frigid temperatures. Once the body is too cold, creativity shuts down. Here was the process: I would discover a location and we would start discussing the pose. If it was really cold, we’d find somewhere warm nearby to rehearse. Subway stations proved to be a great option.

We’d practice the pose with minimal clothing like dance shorts and a sports bra so I could get the lighting set. Once we were ready, the dancers would throw off their clothes and rush into position. We typically shot for about 20 seconds, reviewed the images (clothed), then do it all again if we had the chance.

Frequently the police would arrive, either by happenstance or because someone called in a complaint. But we were never arrested!

Shutterbug: Can you offer a few tips for our readers who’d like to attempt something like this themselves?

Matter: Above all, rely on serendipity. Take risks, and don’t be easily satisfied. My favorite quote is, “Leap and the net will appear.” My process is completely spontaneous; I never have a plan. I discover the location in the moment and then collaborate with my subjects to create the pose. I highly recommend this approach. Throw away the storyboard and see what happens. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Shutterbug: Thanks for your time explaining your extraordinary project, Jordan, and for agreeing to do this interview indoors and fully clothed. Here’s a link where our readers can purchase the book. Now, let’s take a look at the behind-the-scenes video and below that check out a Shutterbug video where Matter tests the Nikon D5 during a Dancers After Dark shoot in New York City.

COMMENTS's picture

Nudism: No Shoes, No Shirt... No Problem! It's art and only natural.