Thursday, January 11, 2018

Mark Morris

Mark Morris, Toronto, March 1992

BACK AT THE END OF THE EIGHTIES AND THE EARLY NINETIES, when I was in New York City a lot visiting a girlfriend, I'd try to meet with photographers whose work I admired. While the closest I ever got to Irving Penn was prostrating myself in front of his door, I did meet with Michael Lavine, whose proto-grunge album cover work I admired, and with Lois Greenfield, the dance photographer for the Village Voice.

I recall Greenfield being very wary of me when I showed up at her studio, which I remember being somewhere around Canal Street. She relaxed a bit when I showed her my portfolio and realized that I wasn't doing anything like her stunning, improbable pictures of dancers frozen in mid-air. I wanted to meet her because I loved her work, which has actually gotten better over the years since her time at the Voice.

Mark Morris, Toronto, March 1992

This is a roundabout way of saying that I have always loved watching dance - ballet, tap, modern, whatever. As an essentially static, graceless person, I find it thrilling to watch someone with that rare gift perform. I'm old enough to remember when dancers were celebrities and dance companies were talked about with the same passion and connoisseurship as writers or foreign movies.

Mark Morris was probably one of the last star dancers, someone whose work was talked about in weekend arts sections and profiled in magazines like Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. Like Twyla Tharp before him, he took ballet's formal language and modernized it. That much I knew; what I didn't know when I was assigned to shoot him for a NOW cover was how I would capture that on film.

Mark Morris, Toronto, March 1992

Photographing him the same year in New York, my friend Chris would somehow talk Morris out of his clothes and capture him in a pose that featured both his compact but muscular build and his testicles. I have always been timid about trying to capture movement - I am a still and graceless person, as I said - so I grounded Morris firmly in a chair in the middle of the empty rehearsal space.

The shots I took on two rolls of black and white 35mm film are about dancers doing what they do quite a lot - sitting around waiting to move. The shot at the top, taken with my Rollei, is a bit more successful, pressing Morris down into the chair in a pool of light provided by my off-camera flash. His slightly defiant expression also helps. It's also imperative to note that the whole thing might have been more forgettable if he weren't wearing those striped socks.

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