One afternoon. Two dancers. A black box and a chance to experiment with angles and light for something a little different. To see more, go to my Facebook album here.
Earlier this week, I had an opportunity to shoot photos of the iMpulse company at Metropolitan School of the Arts. The purpose was to promote “10Plus1,” a show on April 15 that will mark the company’s 10th anniversary and be the spring performance of the Metropolitan Youth Tap Ensemble. Iconic movies will be one of the themes.
Of course, when a photographer has a number of talented dancers in a black box theatre, we had to take some additional shots, so I have a few “outtakes.” To see more, go to my "Art & Dance" gallery here.
For the past three years, I have taken concept photos of the graduating seniors at the Academy of Metropolitan School of the Arts, working with the students to develop concepts that combine their interests and talents. This year’s portrait series, taken in the black box theater at MSA’s studio in Alexandria, focused on shadows. I also shot cap and gown photos of the four seniors, who will complete their school work in June.
To see the entire gallery of MSA graduates — 19 in all — go here.
#photography #seniorphotos #dancephotos #performingartsphotography #capandgownphotos #MSA
Four of my photos, including these two from a shoot last year in Salt Lake City, are featured in a story on Tade Biesinger in today's Deseret News. Tade, who lives in Bountiful, Utah, was Billy Elliot on Broadway and in London. Now a high school senior, he is in the cast of the Pioneer Theatre Company's production of "Newsies," which runs Dec. 1-20.
Pittsburgh's architecture, narrow alleyways, and bridges make it a great place to take dancers, especially when you have ones as talented as these sophomores from Point Park University. To see more, along with other Art & Dance albums, go here.
Last month, my son Ben and I returned to Hickory, N.C., where he taught master classes at Sonya’s Dance Academy and I did headshots and this new installment in the Art & Dance series.
The setting was a section of downtown that is under construction in front of the old City Hall, which houses the Hickory Community Theatre. A huge part of the arts in Hickory — many of the students at Sonya’s studio perform there — the building it is housed in has a fascinating history.
The City Hall building opened in the 1920s with a full auditorium that was rented to Paramount studios as a movie theatre in the 1930s and early 40s. The second balcony, which has not been used since the 1940s, was segregated and the seats were wooden slats. Some of the original seats remain.
All of these elements made their way into the shoot. To see more, go to my Facebook album here.
This is an edited narrative of a presentation I gave at the National Dance Society’s annual conference on Aug. 4 in Norfolk, Va. Photos included in this blog entry were taken during classes offered to area students and attendees at the conference. My wife, Jill, also was a keynote speaker at the conference, talking in separate sessions about mental health and bullying.
The purpose of this session is to talk about the role of the dance photographer so you can capture and promote the work that you do as educators and studio owners. But first, let’s start with a bit of background — the “why” you’re listening to this person on a sunny, summer Friday afternoon.
Here’s what I’m not:
- A painter, or sketch artist: I can’t draw a stick figure or a straight line with a ruler — that type of talent skipped from my father to his grandchildren
- A singer: My wife and oldest son are the singers in the family. I lip-synch “Happy Birthday.”
- A dancer: My son and daughter have that down, thanks to their mom and her excellent coordination. I have to look down to make sure both feet are moving in the proper order.
Here’s what I am: A photographer, writer, storyteller, husband, father, and the son of two teachers. I learned my way around a camera out of necessity while working as a journalist and communications professional, and was told I had an eye for it.
Like many parents, I found myself taking pictures at my kids’ major events, including their dance recitals. The limitations of my camera and lenses made it difficult get much, however, and I did not know enough about dance to capture the proper technique.
Over the last four years, since going out on my own, I’ve learned how to capture the art of dance, both in performance and in various settings that make up my “Art & Dance” series. This series, primarily focusing on young, pre-professional dancers performing on city streets, in an abandoned church, in a creek, in a subway tunnel, and under a bridge, among others, has been profiled in a Northern Virginia arts magazine and has been the subject of three exhibits at a local art gallery. You can see my photos on my website — http://glenncook.virb.com.
What I’ve discovered is that these types of photographs are powerful marketing for educators and studio owners. So let’s spend a little time looking at photography, the basic technical information you need to know, and ways you can broaden your audience.
Getting the Right Equipment
Photography is, like any art form, both independent and interdependent. Yes, anyone can take a picture, and technology has made it easy to capture beautiful shots with our phones. But if you want to shoot dancers, especially during a performance, your iPhone won’t do the trick. In fact, rather than promoting your brand, it dilutes your impact.
The reason, not to get too technical here, is cell phones do not have what is known as an SLR, or single lens reflex. This allows you to focus, click and — if your light and shutter settings are correct — stop action. Your phone camera can’t do all of those things at once, especially in dim light, and it can’t do some of them at all.
So that means you need “a real camera,” and depending on the complexity of what you’re trying to capture, the reality is that a “real camera” and good lenses don’t come cheap.
Here’s why: Going beyond composition, photography comes down to two things — light and speed. This is where photography is most interdependent. If the two are not in sync, it will be difficult to capture what you want to achieve, even if everything is perfectly composed and in focus.
In most performance settings, you will need a camera that can handle low light really well. This is where ISO, the setting for how much light you allow into the camera, comes into play.
If you’re shooting outside, you can normally set your ISO on 100 (brightest), 200, 400, 640 or 800 (getting dim, but still light out). When you’re indoors, you likely will need your ISO settings to start at 1600 (if you’re lucky), 3200 (if there’s good lighting), and 4000 or 5000 (most common).
Although technology has improved greatly, it’s still hard to find an inexpensive camera that can shoot with the speed you need at ISOs of 4000 or 5000 consistently without too much “noise,” which affects the sharpness of your picture.
This is further complicated by the speed factor. To stop a dancer’s motion without blur, you need to have a shutter speed of at least 1/200th of a second. Anything less — whether you’re outside or inside — and you will get blur. Sometimes you can get a flash to sync at 1/200th of a second, but I haven’t been to a performance yet where you can shoot photos with a flash.
So if you decide to take this on yourself, remember these things:
- Get a camera body that can comfortably handle an ISO of at least 4000. (To do that, you’ll need one that can shoot at an ISO of up to 25600, because that means the camera’s sensor will be able to handle 4000 without too much noise.)
- Set your shutter to at least 1/200th of a second.
- Start shooting.
Shooting a Live Show
Photographing a live performance is one of the most difficult and demanding things I’ve done. You have to learn how to anticipate the action, and find ways to shoot so that both technique and emotion are captured. Yes, you want the leaps and jumps, but it’s also about telling the story of the work your students are doing.
This again, speaks to the interdependence of photography. Understanding the story being told on stage is key to capturing the big moments, and the small ones as well. Knowing generally where the performers will be positioned also is helpful.
In most cases, a photographer will not shoot the actual live performance, but a dress rehearsal. This prevents you from disrupting the paying audience and gives you time, in case anything bad happens, to ensure that you get decent shots. It also offers you flexibility because you can shoot from all areas of the performance space.
What happens all too frequently is a photographer will set up in the back of the auditorium and shoot from the same spot. This does capture the show itself, but it prevents you from getting those small moments of emotion that help you tell the story.
So what does this mean for you?
- Talk to the photographer beforehand. Let him or her know what you’d like to see captured — the big and small moments — but give the photographer the flexibility to surprise you.
- Let your dancers/performers know in advance that someone is shooting the dress rehearsal and/or show itself.
- Given that you are capturing a live performance, be prepared for things not to be perfect and know, generally, how that will affect what you choose and use to promote your work.
- If there is time, consider setting up certain scenes to be run more than once so the photographer can capture the action from multiple angles.
Storytelling and Photography
You have millions of ways to tell stories today. Video, stills, audio, the written word. You are in a visual medium, and social networking — despite the political wars many get into on Facebook these days — is geared toward the visual.
This should be a great match, so why don’t you invest in it? And why do you accept poor quality, or opt for the cheap stock art, rather than focusing on your performers? As you put your shows and performances together, do you think about how you will tell the story to the outside world?
Folks are interested in process, the “how” of you put something together. Behind the scenes videos, photos, and short narratives are increasingly popular because of the online world’s endless thirst for content. You don’t have to have high production values for these types of stories; simple iPhone interviews often will do.
As the performance nears, this is where you need to engage a professional photographer and talk about telling your story. Consider having a promotional shoot that can be used for posts — posters, post cards, online posts.
Finally, as the show/performance nears, have the photographer shoot the dress rehearsal. Let your cast know the photographer has free reign to walk around. Say you want 10-15 shots to use for social media purposes immediately; the additional photos can be sold or made available for download to parents.
There are many ways to do this effectively, but being willing to partner and plan is key. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve been asked to shoot something at the last minute. The photos turn out decently, but they would be so much better if I had the opportunity to meet and plan beforehand.
Make It Work for All
I understand that your bottom line on these types of performances is often razor thin, and photography is the first thing to get cut when finances are tight. But you can be creative and original in ways that are fair to everyone involved.
This is my pitch/plea to you: In addition to remembering the photographer in your planning, be prepared to work out some sort of financial arrangement for the work he or she does.
Many photographers I know are willing to go the extra mile for their customers, but free is not acceptable. Think about how you feel, as a business person, when someone constantly asks you to do something without compensation of some sort.
As fellow artists, we understand the financial constraints you’re under, but you can make it work. Telling a photographer he or she can “sell” pictures in lieu of a shoot fee is, unfortunately, a nonstarter. We are in a share society, not a sell society, where consumers feel like they can get their music and media for free.
Here are some things you can do:
- Offer the photographer a shoot fee or a per diem in exchange for the right to sell prints on your own.
- Add a small extra fee for photo services to your recital fees or master classes to offset your cost.
- In return, work with the photographer to make a selection of photos available for sharing on social networks. Usually, these will have the photographer’s watermark on them so that intellectual property rights are not violated.
That’s it, really. If you know your audience, assess your needs, make marketing your story integral to what you do, and work with your photographer and your students to tell it, your audience will be much more engaged in the great work you do.
A few random thoughts from the past week:
• Line of the day: Treat others how you'd like to be treated and we'll all live happily ever after.
• RIP to Sam Shepard, a renaissance man and true artist, in many more ways than one.
• Beyond proud of Nicholas as he starts grad school in Elon's iMedia program, and grateful for the time we've had together during his "funemployment" tour.
• My life's hashtag should be: #justcan'twaittogetontheroadagain. This week, I drove to Norfolk for a dance conference, then turned around and went to Pittsburgh to move Emma into school, where she is working as a "resident educator" — most of us call them RAs — this year. Look at how much our girl has grown up since the far left picture was taken at the start of her freshman year last August.
On the political front…
• This is life at the White House:
• Breaking "news": Revolving doors with gold plated T's belatedly installed in West Wing at cost of $1.2 billion. Trump blames media.
• And one more on the subject courtesy of Bloom County.
Hello, New York. It’s been a while…
On my first trip to the city in several months, I had the opportunity to take dance photos in Washington Heights with my twins (Ben and Emma) and three alums from the “Newsies” tour cast (Josh Burrage, Kaitlyn Frank, and Iain Young).
A subway tunnel on 191st Street and Fort Tryon Park provided the backdrop for this latest set in the series.
For more photos, go to my Facebook album here. Click on the "Art & Dance" tab at the top of this page to see more galleries in the series.
Fourteen of my "Art & Dance" photos are on display and for sale this month at the Kingstowne Public Library in Alexandria, Va. The library is my favorite virtual office and one of the staff asked if I would be interested in showing some of my work, so I was more than happy to oblige.
Library hours vary, but stop by if you can to see the prints, which are on foam core and available for very reasonable prices. If you're interested in a price list, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Virginia Dance Coalition recently held DanceFest 2017 in Alexandria, a weekend event featuring master classes for students and performances by 13 area companies/studios. I was the official photographer for the event, which featured 20 performances in a two-hour show at the end of the festival.
These photos were taken during the dress rehearsal, where I could walk around and look for different angles, and the performance. Companies performing, in alphabetical order, were:
Ballet Arts Ensemble, Ballet Nova Center for Dance, Classical Ballet Theatre, DanceArt Theater, Encore Theatrical Arts Project, Fairfax Ballet Company, Kalavaridhi Center, Kista Tucker Insights, Metropolitan Youth Ballet, Nrityanjali, Play Time Tap, Virginia Ballet Company, and Xuejuan Dance Ensemble.
A new gallery is up in the Performances: Theater & Cabaret section of the website. To see more photos from the event, go to my e-store at http://glenncookphotos.smugmug.com. If you are interested in purchasing photos that are not watermarked, send an email to email@example.com.
The last of the pictures in Road Show is one of only two that feature dancers. It also happens to be one of my favorites, taken of my daughter Emma in Pittsburgh last October.
The show runs through tomorrow night, when the Workhouse Arts Center holds its annual Collectors Showcase fundraiser. If you're interested in attending the Collectors Showcase, go towww.workhousearts.org to purchase tickets.
Dancer in silhouette (from the Art & Dance: Ballerinas Redux album) — Arlington, Va., February 2017
Two and a half years ago, just after developing the “Art & Dance” concept, I took a group of ballerinas from Metropolitan School of the Arts into Washington, D.C., where we shot photos at a graffiti park and in the Federal Triangle. The shoot was very successful, and spurred much of what has taken place since with this series.
What was missing, however, was a second chance to take photos of MSA ballerinas in this type of setting. That changed on Monday, when five members of the Metropolitan Youth Ballet and a helpful apprentice went to Theodore Roosevelt Island and to Great Falls, Va., for the latest installment in the series.
Blessed by an early spring-like day, we navigated around an unusually large contingent of families walking around Theodore Roosevelt Island and took photos in a creek at a small park near the larger Great Falls facility.
Fourteen photos from my "Art & Dance" series are on display and for sale at Breathe Body and Mind, a small yoga studio in West Springfield, Va. All of the prints, which range in size from 8x12 to 20x30, have a 3/16-inch foam core backing and are suitable for framing.
The studio is located at 6350 Rolling Mill Place, Suite 103. You can learn more by visiting the Breathe Body and Mind website at www.breathebodymind.com.
Photos of Ivy, taken in November during a workshop for dancers in Reidsville, N.C., are now up on my website at http://glenncook.virb.com/ivy. If you are interested in scheduling a combination of master classes in dance and headshots for your students, contact me to talk through the possibilities.
Recently, I've started uploading a series of headshots and photos taken this fall. Check out these of Lauren at http://glenncook.virb.com/lauren-nc, taken during a recent trip to Hickory, N.C.
Academy of Dance in Reidsville, N.C., holds a special place in my heart because it’s where our daughter Kate took her first dance lessons at the age of 2. Seventeen years later, Ben and I returned so he could teach two master classes and talk to students about being a performer.
Earlier in the day, I took headshots of the kids as well as this addition to the “Art & Dance” series. Later, while Ben was teaching, I spoke to parents about the work it takes to help an aspiring performer navigate the professional world.
It was a fun day, an opportunity to help others, and a chance to reminisce. It also produced some really good pictures…
Drew Minard is the fifth dancer I’ve shot this year who has taken on the role of “Billy Elliot” in the Broadway, national tour or regional productions of the Tony Award-winning musical. Now a student at the Professional Performing Arts School in New York City, Drew performed on the national tour from 2012 until it closed in Brazil the following year.
These photos were taken in New York City a couple of weeks ago. As with all of the young men who’ve played one of the most difficult child roles on stage — original director Stephen Daldry likens it to performing Shakespeare while running a marathon — I was in awe of his talent and professionalism.
And, appropriately, these shots were taken as the New York City Marathon wrapped up on a beautiful, chilly fall day.
Photos taken of three dancers and Ben that were part of a weekend of master classes and shoots earlier this month in Hickory, N.C. The girls are students at Sonya's Dance Academy. The photos were taken in downtown and at the Bunker Hill covered bridge.
We also held a Sunday morning shoot at a railroad yard featuring some, though not all of the teenage dancers from Sonya's Dance Academy. The shoot produced an interesting set of images, and a whole lot of fun for everyone involved.
Seven performing arts students from Point Park University, including three Metropolitan School of the Arts alums, went with me on a cloudy, breezy Sunday afternoon earlier this month for a dance shoot. The intent was to go to a variety of locations, but the shoot ended up taking place in and around Point State Park across the river from Heinz Field.
I'm sure there will be other shoots in Pittsburgh, but for now, enjoy these and others on my Facebook album here.
elan Magazine, a monthly publication devoted to the fine arts in Northern Virginia, has published a very flattering story on my "Art & Dance" series in its October issue, accompanied by several images from the various shoots I've been doing since August 2014. You can read a PDF of the feature here.
I'm grateful to the writer, Donna Cedar-Southworth, who spent a long time culling through the images for the magazine, which is mailed to homes and real estate agents serving the Greater Washington, D.C., area.
My only wish is that the article mentioned my association with the Arches Gallery Artists, which is where Donna found my work in the first place. Exposure of this type is critical to anyone trying to make a living in the fine arts, and I've been blessed to work with — and learn from — many of the terrific photographers, painters, and designers in this area.
Reach for the sky — Pittsburgh, Pa., October 2016.
Note: I normally don't post dance pictures until I've edited all of them, but I'm so thrilled about this one I caught of our daughter, Emma, during a shoot with her Point Park friends today that I couldn't wait. Look for more of these, as well as ones captured during a trip to North Carolina last week, soon.
A huge thanks to the staff, students, and parents at Sonya's Dance Academy who took part in a weekend-long series of photo shoots, master classes, and workshops recently in Hickory, N.C.
My son, Ben, taught two hour-long dance classes and talked to the students about his evolution from child to adult actor/performer. Meanwhile, I scheduled a series of mini-sessions with students for headshots, and spent more than an hour with parents talking about raising a young professional in the performing arts. Finally, we did a series of "Art & Dance" shoots, for which the photos will be coming shortly.
If your studio or group is interested in putting together this type of package, please contact me via Facebook message or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ve been fortunate to know Zach Manske and his family for the past five years, ever since he and our son, Ben, shared the title role in the national tour of “Billy Elliot: The Musical.” Zach, who lives in Woodbury, Minn., was named “2016 National Senior Male Outstanding Dancer” last month by the New York City Dance Alliance.
A couple of weeks ago, Zach was completing a summer intensive at Julliard when I had the long-awaited opportunity to take his headshots and add to my “Art & Dance” portfolio. Ben, who is auditioning in New York, came along for the shoot, which took place in front of Lincoln Center and at Central Park.
As you might expect when you have not one, but two excellent dancers, the shoot was great fun. But the best part of the day was seeing these two young men, who became friends during a high pressure and intense time as kids, pick up right where they left off, urging each other on and enjoying a chance to perform.
For more photos, go to http://glenncook.virb.com/new-york-zach--ben.
At 17, Tade Biesinger already has lived a very interesting life, becoming one of the youngest boys to play "Billy Elliot" on Broadway and later reprising the role in London for several months.
Now a senior just outside Salt Lake City, this very talented young man is taking college dance classes as he finishes high school. We've known Tade and his wonderful family for six years, and I was fortunate to catch up with him on a recent trip to Utah.
To see more from this shoot, go to http://glenncook.virb.com/salt-lake-city-tade.
One of my "Art and Dance" photos has been selected to hang outside the office of Sharon Bulova, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, for the next year. I was asked by the Workhouse Arts Center to provide the photo after winning Best in Show at the 2016 Collectors Showcase earlier this year. I've been a member of the Arches Gallery Artists at the workhouse since 2014.
Congratulations to Metropolitan School of the Arts for reaching its $60,000 fundraising goal to help fund a new black box theatre. An anonymous donor agreed to match any amount raised up to the $60,000 figure during the campaign, which ended on Friday.
The theatre, which will be located at MSA’s Alexandria studio, will be in place this fall. It will accommodate up to 200 patrons and will save the non-profit more than $50,000 a year in facilities rentals.
Proceeds from your purchases of my 2016 “Art & Dance” calendar helped make a $500 donation to the campaign. Several of my photos, including those in the graphic above, also were used in the fundraising materials.
Thank you again for your support of the arts!
Photos from "Rhythm & Sole," the annual dance showcase featuring students from Fairfax Academy for Communications & the Arts. Our daughter, Emma, performed the dance she choreographed as a trio with her friends Georgia Monroe and Kelsey Kaufman. Congratulations to all the dancers, a number of whom had not performed on stage for an audience prior to the event.
For more photos, go to my Facebook album here.
Post-New York randoms a week after Tuck Everlasting opened on Broadway:
• Master of the Obvious: Well, that was a trip I won’t soon forget.
• The best part of the trip was getting to spend some quality alone time with my boys. I don’t get to do that enough.
• The second best part was seeing my son do what he loves, and seeing his siblings happy to be part of the experience. We missed Kate not being there, though.
• Watching a friend tap dance while Jon Dee Graham played an instrumental in the basement of the Hill Country BBQ was NOT the most surreal part of the trip. Close, but not quite.
• When people are obviously trying to listen to acoustic music in a small venue, I don’t know why some feel an uncontrollable urge to turn up their inner frat-boy volume to 11.
• I've was in way too many photos last week and not behind the camera enough. There is something wrong with this picture...
• Things I thought I'd never say: I agree with John Boener on something. But then he had to bring up Ted Cruz.
• Riding a bus home is OK until you get stuck in traffic and someone decides to leave the spicy burrito they ate in the bathroom 3 rows back.
• People are bipolar. Mother Nature is not. Not sure what she is exactly, but that's a different story.
• NYC tourist tango: 1, 2, 3 ... GAWK! 1, 2, 3 ... GAWK!
Two more observations, all with accompanying art…
• If our cats could speak English, they'd say, "See? We told you, this stuff is real..."
• Kids, this is appropriate... (And yes, my mom did send it to me.)
Conclusion: Being interviewed by an aspiring teenage photographer — the director’s cut. This section focuses on the “Art & Dance” series.
What led to the “Art & Dance” series?
My twins, Ben and Emma, are dancers (as was their sister, Kate, until she was in high school). So, as the family photographer, I found myself taking pictures of their recitals, just like I did with Nicholas and his theatre/music performances in high school and college. For a long time, I had to take hundreds of pictures just to get a few I liked.
And there are reasons for that.
First, I shot a lot of pictures indoors, and until I got a good camera body (Canon 5D-Mark III) that works well in low light as well as a number of F2.8 lenses (the expensive ones), I was working at a disadvantage, especially indoors.
Second, I usually shot performances, which meant that I sat in the same place and tried to capture things on a stage. That was both fun and boring at the same time, because I had to wait instead of create, and I had to rely on lighting that was completely out of my control.
In 2014, I was looking for a new creative challenge, one that was more conceptual and artistic. I was always told that I had more of a news eye than a conceptual one and, for a long time, I believed that, but I wanted to challenge myself because it was something I hadn’t done before.
That’s when I came up with the idea of taking pictures of dancers in natural light and in unusual settings. This is not a unique thing; you can find countless images all over the web. But it solved two concerns for me: 1) I wouldn’t have to worry about slow shutter speeds and sitting in the same place all the time. 2) I could see if my conceptual eye (the Art) could match the skills of the performer (the Dance).
What challenges did you find in doing this?
Unfortunately, at least at the beginning, I shot the “Art & Dance” pictures the same way as I did the performances. As someone who doesn’t dance, I didn’t understand the “peak” and missed it over and over, as my kids took pains to remind me constantly.
Things changed for me when I realized that I needed to try different angles. I do that in my other photography, but why not dance? Often when I sit I can capture peaks because my eye is at the same level as the dancer’s jump. And the more I practice, the better I get at it, both the photography and the art direction.
As a dancer, you have an advantage because you know that part. But you will still need to practice, practice, practice. Photography is a form of art just like dance is, and you can always find ways to improve.
Recently, the father of a 13-year-old girl wrote asking if I could help her with a class project by answering some questions about photography. The dad explained that his daughter — a dancer and a big “Newsies” fan — had started following my work because of my ongoing “Art & Dance” series and had gotten a camera for Christmas.
As a dad, it’s hard to turn down this type of request, especially when a parent takes the time to ask for help for his daughter. As a photographer, I’m more collegial than competitive, and always happy to help others.
Answering her questions was an interesting exercise. Since Jill and I reached 50 last year, we both find ourselves reflecting on why we do what we do, what drives us to continue, and what we like/dislike about our roles in this life. As the child of two teachers, this was my teachable moment, an opportunity to explain the craft I've come to love.
Over the next four days, I’d like to share edited — and in some cases enhanced — versions of the responses. (Call it a “director’s cut” if you will.) If you follow my writing and this blog, chances are you’ve seen some of this before. But I hope you find it an entertaining read nonetheless.
What was your inspiration to become a professional photographer?
My dad was a visual artist who could paint, sculpt, or draw anything that came to mind. I can't draw a stick figure, but I've always had his eye for composition, just not the creativity (or sadly, the fine motor skills) to create something out of nothing.
When I first went to New York with our son, Ben, in 2009, I thought of my dad often as I was drawn to the visual explosion that is the city. Dad died in 2007 and never visited New York, but in so many ways, the stuff I see walking around serves as a constant reminder of his interests, insights, and influence on my life. Also, when in New York, I spend most of my time on foot as opposed to in a car, so I see things differently when I’m there.
On a beautiful spring day, I took out my camera, started taking random pictures of the things I saw, and found I have a knack for it. I shared the photos to Facebook, found my friends liked them too, and just continued with it.
What do you like most about photography?
Capturing moments in time, whether it is through the dance pictures, an unusual or visually interesting place, or through portraits I take of people. People seem to appreciate that I can do it and like my work, which is very gratifying.
Photography also has allowed me to make connections I never would have imagined — such as the one I’m making with you right now — and several folks from far-flung places have said they became interested in picking up a camera after seeing my random noodlings. I've been lucky to go out on photo shoots with a variety of other weekend warriors, all of whom I've learned from and whose talents are greater than mine.
Here’s what I say to anyone who has an interest in taking pictures: Try it and see what happens. You might find you like it and have a previously untapped talent. It’s something you can do alone or with others. It gives you a chance to be creative in ways you might never have imagined.
Next Up: Learning the basics.
Flying leap — St. Louis, January 2016
Seventeen months after Ben's journey in "Newsies" started, and more than a year after the first "Art & Dance" shoot in Charlotte, we embarked on one last try on the morning before his final performance.
With five fellow cast members, the shoot took place on the roof of the Fox Theatre, more than 12 stories up and with beautiful views of St. Louis in the background.
To get to the platform we used at the top of the theatre, we had to climb up a steep slope. The last few photos in this album were taken by Ben and his roommate, Josh Burrage, from the slope.
I may be brave, but I ain't balanced... Enjoy.
To see more photos from this shoot, go to my Facebook album here.
Members of iMpulse made their annual winter trip to New York City this past weekend, taking a series of small and large group classes at Broadway Dance Center, seeing "An American in Paris," and posing for portraits at Columbus Circle before returning to Virginia on Saturday evening.
All but one member (Sophia Kleess, who was at a college audition) attended the photo session. A photo taken at a session locally is included here.
To see all of the portraits full size, visit my Facebook album here.
Most of the photos in the “Art & Dance” series are taken quickly. The shoots generally last no more than a couple of hours. But this particular series, captured in Central Park last weekend, was done in a hit-and-run fashion. We didn’t have much time — about 45 minutes to be exact — to take pictures of several iMpulse dancers. So we went to a section of the park near the entrance at Columbus Circle and got these.
There’s something to be said for working fast, I guess…
To see more from this shoot, go to my Facebook album here or check out the "Art & Dance" section on this website.
Wednesday is the last day to order your 2016 "Art & Dance" calendar and receive it in time for the holidays. Cost is $20 (plus $6.95 for shipping outside Northern Virginia), with proceeds benefitting Metropolitan School of the Arts and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
Veronica is a high school senior who was part of one of the first "Art & Dance" shoots (ballerinas in a graffiti park) in August 2014. These photos were taken earlier this fall at the Lorton Workhouse. For more photos, check out my "Art & Dance" page here.
Courtney Lapenta is one of the most interesting and talented dancers I’ve known in my time as a photographer for Metropolitan School of the Arts. Now a sophomore at California’s Chapman University, we took advantage of her fall break to take pictures at the Capitol Columns site at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C.
These photos from a trip to Hollywood are part of my 2016 "Art & Dance" calendar, now available at http://glenncook.virb.com/2016-calendar. Proceeds from the sales benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and Metropolitan School of the Arts. Get yours now in time for the holidays!
One last thing from last week's events: Photographer Isaiah Foster took these photos at the RAW-DC "Uprising" exhibit I participated in at the Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C. To see more of his work, go to http://shineinc516.blogspot.com/
Ten of my Art & Dance photos were on display at RAW-Uprising, a show featuring more than 40 perfomers and artists that was held at the Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C. A sincere thank you to everyone who purchased tickets and turned out for the event, which showcased my work in front of a large and diverse audience of more than 500 people.
On Cyber Monday, you can buy gifts online and support the arts at the same time. Pick up your 2016 "Art and Dance" calendar featuring pre-professional and professional dancers from across the U.S. on my website. Go to http://glenncook.virb.com/
2016-calendar and show your support for Metropolitan School of the Arts and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
Ballerinas in sculpture — Denver, July 2015
Sometimes you have to “Just Dance.”
That’s what a group of children and adults have done at a local school in the village of Chittenango, N.Y., since a fire destroyed their studio in late September. And this Saturday, they’ll dance again in a fundraiser to benefit the rescue workers who put out the blaze.
“We are a small community that needs to take care of each other,” said Michael Quirk, a Chittenango native who opened Just Dance Studio seven years ago. “During our time of need Chittenango has stepped up and helped us. We want to give back to show our thanks to this great community.”
Chittenango, located about 15 miles east of Syracuse, is a small village best known as the birthplace of L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The village holds a three-day Oz-Stravaganza! and has a yellow brick road on both sides of Genesee Street, which houses Chittenango’s main business district.
Just Dance Studio, which has 87 students ages 3 to adult, had its facilities on the first floor of a two-story brick building on Genesee. Late in the evening on Sept. 24, a fire started in a second floor apartment and quickly engulfed the building.
The students were dancing the next day at the local high school.
In early October, I took a brief business trip to the Syracuse-Rochester area. Stephanie Wicks, a longtime friend and co-worker of Jill’s, mentioned the fire and what had happened. “You probably could get some good pictures,” she said.
I contacted Quirk and his sister, Kelli Handzel (the business manager), and offered to take photos of several of the studio’s students to raise funds for the rebuilding efforts. We agreed to meet on a Saturday afternoon the day before I left outside the studio building, which has been condemned and will be demolished.
Ten dancers, ranging in age from 7 to 11, were there with their parents. Many were wearing Just Dance T-shirts, and all had costumes. We took photos at the studio, went to the Chittenango Volunteer Fire Department, where a festival was being held, and then to Chittenango Falls State Park.
Most of the photos in my “Art & Dance” series are of pre-professional and professional dancers who have been immersed in years of training. This shoot served as a reminder of why kids get into it in the first place — they like to “Just Dance."
Saturday’s recital, which will be held from noon to 2 p.m. at Chittenango Middle School, comes as the volunteer fire department continues its annual fundraising campaign. Taxpayers fund the trucks and most of the department’s emergency equipment, but repairs, maintenance and upkeep of the building and grounds are paid for with donations.
Tickets are $5 at the door. Dance and fire safety demonstrations are planned, along with flu shots, a 50/50 raffle and other activities. Quirk is using the recital as an opportunity to “reveal” where the replacement studio will be located.
“We are very lucky,” he said during the shoot. “This community has been so supportive. At the same time, many people thought we wouldn’t continue to operate or just close up shop, so we need to make a statement that we’re still here and we’ll be even better. For many of our kids, dance is becoming their primary activity. They enjoy it too much. We enjoy it too much to just walk away.”
To make a tax-deductible donation to the Chittenango Fire Department, mail it to 417 Genesee Street, Chittenango, N.Y., 13037. For more “Art & Dance” photos from this session, go here.
The latest edition in my ongoing series features three teenage dancers/performers on a 36-hour, late summer trip to Manhattan, all visiting what they hope will be their future home. One sunrise Saturday trip into the theatre district, followed by a sunset shoot on the High Line
I’m fortunate to have 17-year-old twins who are dancers, and dynamic ones at that. Ben and Emma are the biggest — and best — critics of my photography. They also are the inspiration for this ongoing “Art & Dance” series. So with Ben on a break from the Newsies tour, they asked me to take pictures of a short practice session at the Lorton Workhouse.
They were dancing for the joy of dance. And it was a joy to watch…
To see more from this and other Art & Dance sets, click on the tab at the top of this page.
Over the past year, I have done "Art & Dance" shoots with professional and pre-professional dancers in Washington, D.C., Northern Virginia, Charlotte, Dallas, Detroit, Hollywood, New York, Orlando, and Toronto. Recently, I decided to compile my favorites from each shoot and put them up on my website. Take a look by clicking on the "Art & Dance" tab or by starting here — http://glenncook.virb.com/about-the-series
Annelise, another dancer from the Detroit area and a veteran of the “Billy Elliot” tour, is in the spotlight today as “Portraits & Headshots Week” continues. For more photos from the session, go here.
“Portraits & Headshots Week” continues with another set of siblings. Brittany and Jocelyn are high school students and dancers who live in the Detroit suburbs. Their photos were taken in August in conjunction with my “Art & Dance” shoot in Detroit. For a look at their portraits, go here.
Caught by security — Toronto, Canada, August 2015
At the recent rate of travel, I can’t help but think I’ll be one of those people who wakes up in his own bed and doesn’t know where he is. It is nice, though, to be back in my bed after a whirlwind 2+ weeks.
For the past couple of months, Jill and I have pointed to this 17-day period as the one we had to “just survive.” To recap:
• June 19: Kate graduates from high school with my mom in from Texas and the McFarlands and Nicholas here from North Carolina.
• June 20: The McFarlands leave for a 25th anniversary weeklong trip to Maine.
• June 21: “Newsies” ends its two-week run in D.C. on Father’s Day. Nicholas returns to his new job and new apartment. My mom leaves, too.
• June 22: Ben leaves for Boston; Emma and Jeremiah start tech week for MSA’s “Toy Stories.”
• June 23: I leave to shoot the Graduate Management Admissions Council’s annual conference in Denver.
• June 25: Jill leaves for the ASCA conference in Phoenix.
• June 26: I get home from the GMAC conference.
• June 27: Ben catches a 6 a.m. flight from Boston to come home to see “Toy Stories.” I pick up the McFarlands in D.C. and take them to the matinee, the first of four shows scheduled this weekend. Emma packs for her three-week dance intensive in New York City.
• June 28: “Toy Stories” ends. Jeremiah returns to New York with his mom. After the tearful farewells to MSA’s seniors, Emma, Ben and I leave at 11:30 p.m. for Lower Manhattan, arriving just after 4 a.m. so she can start the dance intensive.
• June 29: Bleary eyed, I walk around the Lower East Side with my camera as Emma starts her camp. Afterward, Ben, Ginno and I meet her for a grocery/drug store run, then we leave for Boston.
• June 30: I have a business meeting in Boston, then Ginno and I watch Ben perform as Crutchie for the first time in “Newsies.” Harvey Fierstein (book), Jack Feldman (lyrics), and Jeff Calhoun (director) are in attendance. Ben nails it.
• July 1: Ginno and I head south in the early morning. I drop him off in Midtown and then head for Virginia.
• July 2: After a brief sleepover stop at home to check on Kate, who is child sitting for a family this summer, I did a quick photo shoot before leaving for North Carolina to see Nicholas and take him furniture for his new apartment. The trip takes almost seven hours, three of that to Fredericksburg 30 miles from our home.
• July 3: Nicholas and I embark on a memorable IKEA run to Charlotte, then drive back to Northern Virginia to see Jill, who returned that morning from her Phoenix conference. At the end of the evening, I drive into D.C. to pick up Emma, who is coming home for the weekend.
• July 4: Nationals game with Emma, her boyfriend James, Jill and Nicholas, followed by fireworks in D.C. with Kate. Great nap outside the National Theatre between the two events.
• July 5: Nicholas and Emma return to New York and North Carolina, respectively. I have another photo shoot with a client. Life returns to “normal,” if you can call it that.
Over those 17 days, I went to or through nine states and the District of Columbia, eight of them (plus DC) in a new car that has 2,600 miles on it after only 21 days of ownership.
To use a phrase Nicholas likes, “That, folks, is how we roll…”
Gabi is an actress and rising junior in the musical theater program at New York’s Pace University. She and her parents also are long-time family friends. I took Gabi’s headshots last summer — her photo is one of several on the top of my Facebook business page — and had a chance to follow up last week with another set for the ongoing “Art & Dance” series.
These photos were taken under the Woodrow Wilson Bridge that connects Virginia and Maryland as well as along the George Washington Parkway that leads from D.C. to Mount Vernon.
For more photos from this shoot, go to my Facebook page.
Seven dancers — including my twins Ben and Emma, Jeremiah, and their friend, Georgia, plus three members of the Newsies cast — had a couple of hours to pose, twist and turn during our visit to California last week. The result is “Art & Dance: Hollywood Style.”
For more photos from this shoot, go to my Facebook album here.
The latest in the "Art & Dance" series featuring cast members from the 1st National Tour of "Newsies." These shots were taken on a break between shows in mid-May outside the AT&T Theater in Dallas.
For more of these photos, visit my Facebook page here.
What do my kids do for a snow day? They dance. In the snow. And have their father take pictures...
For more of these photos, go to my Facebook album here.
I spent a large portion of the weekend putting the finishing touches on my first photo exhibit, which will be on display throughout March at the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton, Va. I became a member of the Workhouse Associate Artists group last summer, and have had several photos on display, but this is my first time as a "Featured Artist."
The show, "Landscapes, Dancers (and other things I see)," features 17 of my photos ranging in size from 8x12 to 20x30. All are framed and for sale (see list below).
An opening reception will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, March 14, in Gallery 9. You can see my work then as well as pieces from the other Workhouse Associate Artists, or stop by the gallery from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and noon to 5 p.m. weekends.
The lights showcase the photos beautifully. Photographing the photos in this light, however, is another story.
In preparing the exhibit, I developed an "Artist's Statement" explaining what you'll see and what some of the motivation was behind the pictures. While regular readers of this blog (thanks, Jill and Mom) are familiar with the story, casual passers-by likely will wonder, "What the heck was he thinking?"
So here it is...
I still find it somewhat humorous to be called an “artist.” Working in journalism and communications, I know my way around a camera, especially when it came to photographing events. But I had never done what you would call “fine art” — landscapes, portraits, etc.
In my family, my father was the artist who could work in almost any medium except — ironically — photography. I can’t draw a stick figure, but it seems I managed to pick up his wandering eye for composition. After his death in Texas in 2007, my wife and I spent a great deal of time in New York, and I found myself wishing he could walk the streets of Manhattan with me. One day, I decided to pick up my camera and see if I could capture what he would have seen, those little mundane aspects of life that we rarely pay attention to each day.
I started shooting — a lot — and found that I enjoyed it.
Today, my camera is an almost constant companion, both as a passion and as a business. As a parent of four artistic (performing and visual) children, I started capturing their performances, which led to a series — some of which are in this exhibit — that I’ve started with Metropolitan School of the Arts. I’m fortunate that people outside my immediate family seem to like what I do, and I find that photography is a way to honor my dad and keep his memory alive.
In Orlando, where the weather is a little warmer, Ben and I took some time out today to shoot a few more photos of leaps and jumps. Here are a couple of examples. For more, check out my Facebook album here.
More photos added to the Art & Dance series, focusing on recent performances by Metropolitan School of the Arts students. To see more, go to my Facebook album here.
Ben, my son, and his friend Josh went out on a photo excursion last week in cold, frigid Charlotte. I managed to capture several nice images of two outstanding teen dancers.
Teenage dancers, snow, slush, and Times Square — New York City, February 2015
For more photos, go to my Facebook album here.
I’ve always found the creative process fascinating, whether it’s reporting and writing a story, composing and taking photos, or watching a show develop from page to production.
The end result — the product — usually is less interesting, because it’s “done” and I’m on to the next thing. For years, I rarely looked back at stories I had written or photos I shot. Some find it interesting that I don’t go to every performance of every show that our kids do, or go to the theater every time I see Ben on the road. But I have no burning desire — or the cash flow — to do it.
Since my father died in 2007, I’ve found myself reflecting a lot on my childhood and what shaped me as I try to help in the shaping of my children. Today, almost eight years after his death, I am hyperaware of time and the opportunities we have to enjoy experiences or let them slip through our fingers. I understand that creating “art” — if you could call what I do that — allows me to keep his spirit alive.
Perhaps it’s a function of getting older, or being a freelancer for these past 19 months, but the creative process I’m engaged in now forces me to look back and revisit what I’ve done and where I’ve been on a consistent basis. The daily photos you see here and on my Facebook photo page are a function of reflecting on past work — “Why did I shoot THAT?!?” — even as I’m trying to promote getting more work. And the writing jobs I’m seeking require me to showcase the work I’ve done before.
As a lifelong fan of history (familial, cultural, and political), I enjoy analyzing and figuring out how past events have shaped and continue to affect us to this day and beyond. A number of the essays in this blog merge those interests, allowing me to be creative (I hope) and analytical at the same time. It’s my way of explaining how my parents, family and friends have affected my life and parenting style, or whether a significant cultural event or watershed moment has forced me to look at the world just a little bit differently.
When I had a “regular job,” I could easily point back to what I had produced, how I had managed a budget, or how many trips I had taken. When I opened my writing and photography business in July 2013, I started with nothing and was tasked with creating something from scratch.
The juggling act that represents a freelance life is no easier than juggling the parenting of multiple teenagers. In fact, the parallels are quite striking. You never are away from it completely. You are always looking toward the future while facing the present and — I hope — learning from past mistakes and victories. You alternately feel overwhelmed, grateful, and happy/sad/exhausted/indifferent/victorious — sometimes at the same time.
Both require you to be on your toes and constantly creative. And, I’ve got to say, I do enjoy that, even if my toes hurt more than they should on some days.
So, given that preamble, I recently decided to look back at what I accomplished as a professional freelancer during 2014. And I was surprised at how productive the year actually was.
Here’s a list:
• Wrote 30 feature length articles for state and national publications, several of which have come out early this year. At least one featured my photography as well.
• Regularly updated this blog with additional essays — including ones published on LinkedIn — and photographs.
• Shot two national conferences.
• Photographed multiple events in conjunction with Metropolitan School of the Arts (MSA).
• Had 20 portrait and family sessions.
• Developed a photo series that I've dubbed “Art & Dance," which led to MSA’s first-ever calendar featuring its own students. We sold more than 70 calendars and my business donated the net profit — $500 — to the school.
Meanwhile, the Facebook photography page (www.facebook.com/ourrealityshow) has grown to more than 1,300 followers. A website (http://glenncookphoto.smugmug.com) was set up to provide a reasonably priced method for selling prints and digital images of my MSA event pictures. More than 350 images have been sold, more than paying for the cost of the site and bringing in a small profit. I hope to expand the site to include more of my artwork in the near future.
There’s a lot more where that came from, I’m sure. And now that I’ve spent a few moments reflecting, it’s on to the next project.
The creative process demands it, as does the life of a freelancer.
The holiday season is the focus of the fifth installment of the Art & Dance series, this time focusing on Metropolitan School of the Arts' performances of "The Nutcracker" and Frosty Follies. "Art & Dance" is my attempt to merge stylized photography with dancers from different genres. The series, which started in August 2014, now includes more than 100 photos.
For more from this installment, go to my Facebook album here. To see other Art & Dance entries, click on the Art & Dance category on the blog or go to the Visual Storytelling section.
You can still order your 2015 "Art & Dance" calendar and support the Metropolitan School of the Arts scholarship fund. Orders are being accepted through Dec. 1 and will be delivered in time for the holidays. Out of town orders also are accepted for an additional $4.50 shipping. Suggested donation is $20.
Place your order now at the MSA studio in Alexandria or Lorton, or by filling out this form. Thank you!
This is the one that started the Art & Dance series — a shot of my son, Ben,rehearsing at the Lorton Workhouse. This image, and many more, are featured in my 2015 Art & Dance calendar now available as a benefit for Metropolitan School of the Arts.
Suggested donations are $20; shipping outside Northern Virginia is an additional $4.50. To purchase your calendar, send me an email at email@example.com or a message via Facebook.
The first shipment of "Art & Dance" calendars has arrived. Orders can be picked up at MSA's Alexandria studio and I will ship calendars to those of you from out-of-town soon. There's still time if you haven't purchased yours yet, and you can see a sample at either the Alexandria or Lorton studio.
Calendars are being sold for a suggested donation of $20. Click here to order yours today!
Here are more photos from my "Art & Dance" series. You can check out some of the newest ones in my Facebook album here, or by visiting the Visual Storytelling section.
Two new entries in the "Art & Dance" series — "Finding Art in Performance."
Today's Daily Photo is actually a set of three pictures from my "Finding Art in Performance" series focusing on "Art & Dance."
Here is the start of a new section in my ongoing "Art & Dance" series. I call this one "Finding art in performance." You can find more photos like this in my Visual Storytelling section.
More photos from the Art & Dance series — "Finding Art in Performance."
Consider this album a merger of separate interests.
Because of my children and my affiliation with Metropolitan School of the Arts, I shoot a lot of performances. But live performances are the end result, not the work in progress.
It’s rare, in fact, that I shoot rehearsals, or the art in the process of being created. The reason, quite frankly, is that I find it to be frustrating. As a non-dancer (actually someone who has problems putting one foot in front of the other without tripping), I look at the photos I take from a “Did I capture something cool?” standpoint, not whether I caught someone at peak in a particular move. Peak, however, is what is expected.
My kids have taught me, often with some rancor involved, to check with them before posting something they believe to be inferior quality. And rehearsals are by their very nature a work in progress, where the mistakes will equal the sublime moments, so I’ve largely chosen not to take photos in those instances.
This past Sunday, however, was a different story. I needed to take new headshots of Ben, along with a few photos for a portfolio his manager asked us to create. Ben wanted to work on a dance for a camp he is participating in this week, so I decided to tag along and see what I could get.
I’ve wanted to expand my repertoire to include more “artistic” photos, not just captures of a performance in progress, and that was my aim with this shoot. I shot a lot, as you might expect, then went in and narrowed the photos down to an acceptable number (headshots still to come).
After some post processing, this is the result. I think it’s an interesting merger of art and talent coming together. If you would like to see more, go to "Art & Dance" in the Visual Storytelling section.
If there’s one thing I’ve found as a photographer and journalist, it’s that things rarely happen as you envision them.
This is an exception, and an example of several divergent travels and experiences coming together for an exceptional day with some extremely talented teens.
For the past several months, I’ve wanted to stretch and move more into conceptual works involving people, combining photography and art direction. Most of my people photography revolves around candids or events. Portraits are still relatively new, and while my eye leans toward the unusual/abstract in a lot of the “wandering around” shoots I do, those rarely involve people.
Last fall and again this past winter, I took a series of pictures under a bridge next to Garland Park in Washington, D.C. The area, which street artists have covered in graffiti and paintings, also serves as an impromptu skateboard park. The artwork can — and does — change regularly, so you never know what you’ll see on the next visit.
The last time I was there, taking pictures as teens from Metropolitan School of the Arts worked on a music video, I mentioned to Ben and Emma that I wanted to take pictures of ballerinas at the park, thinking the contrast would make for some interesting shots. The concept has continued to stick with me, but finding a time to do it has been elusive.
On a separate, Sunday morning trip to our nation’s capital, I walked around the Federal Triangle near the National Mall and through the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. The Reagan building has a beautiful lobby, while the stone walkway outside the Federal Triangle has a series of curved arches that were almost empty on a non-workday. I thought those places also would be good locations for this type of work.
Several times this summer, I talked to several kids at Metropolitan School of the Arts about a “photo shoot” and they were enthusiastic. Then, after taking conceptual shots of Ben dancing a couple of weeks ago, the full idea came together.
What you see here, and in the Visual Storytelling section, is the result of that effort.
I have to thank the dancers — Sarah, Alex, Veronica, Katie, Lauren, and Bridget — who participated, as well as Ben and Jeremiah for their partnering efforts and Alex and Sam for coming along as well. And a special thank you to Veronica’s father, Rafael, who patiently drove the other vehicle and indulged us as we took photos.
It could not have been done without all of your help and participation. Thanks again.