Posted by Rebecca King on 05.16.2016
Last month while visiting New York City for Miami City Ballet’s spring tour, I received a Facebook message from a local dance photographer, Jon Taylor, asking if I would be interested in doing a photoshoot with him. By exploring his social media accounts, I discovered gorgeous photos of dancers surrounded by cityscapes and other outdoor venues. You may say, sure, but many photographers capture dancers in settings other than the stage. And to that I say, no one is doing it quite like Jon.
The day we met for my shoot, we went in search of a backdrop by exploring a rather quiet part of town. It was fascinating to watch him scoping different locations. It wasn’t about the busiest street where we could get the most people to stare, in fact it was quite opposite. It was about finding a beautiful building with character that seemed to have a story to tell, and chasing the afternoon light to find it dancing perfectly on the concrete. The pictures weren’t just about the dancing; he makes a terrific effort to include the architecture in each shot, which adds unexpected dimension to his work in New York City.
As our shoot went on, we chatted about photography and how he got involved with dance specifically. I found his story fascinating, as I’m sure you will too.
Rebecca King: How did you start your career in photography?
Jon Taylor: I’ve had a camera in my hand for as long as I can remember. My favorite thing about family vacations as a kid was being in charge of taking all the photos. I would take photos of everything. I called it making art – my parents called it wasting film. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I ever considered a career in photography. It started with a couple lucky breaks and chance encounters to launch me into shooting photojournalism, weddings, portraits, and fashion full time.
RK: What inspired you to get involved in dance photography?
JT: I’ve always considered photography to be another form of artistic medium, but I constantly felt that the photos I shot were always for a specific purpose or client, and never for myself. I would admire the art my friends were creating, and envied that they could hang their work on their walls or give their images as gifts. Whereas, it wasn’t appropriate in my opinion to print and frame my brides or bikini models. Enthralled by the juxtaposition of elegance and grace of a ballerina on a backdrop of a city or somewhere other than a stage or studio, I began photographing dancers in New York City and other contrasting locations.
RK: How have you studied ballet to help understand what makes a good line, or a good photo from the dance perspective?
JT: When I started photographing ballet, I had only a small background as a ballroom dancer, which is only
marginally similar. I knew nothing about the intense and excruciating detail that ballet entails. It wasn’t until I moved to NYC (to further my career in fashion photography) that I decided it was also time to begin understanding ballet technique. I make an effort to sit down with my dancers after every shoot to review the images. I will often ask questions like “Why don’t you like this photo?” or “What needs to be different to make this shot perfect?” to better understand what the dancer is looking for in herself. What’s also extremely helpful is sometimes having another dancer over my shoulder during the shoot to coach and make corrections that I may otherwise miss while focusing on what I need to do in the camera.
RK: What have you found to be most challenging when working with dancers?
JT: Every dancer is different, and every dancer is the same. What I mean by that is there is a degree of uniformity required in ballet, but every dancer gets to that point from somewhere different. They’re all of different backgrounds and educations and body types, striving to achieve a level of personal and professional perfection. Some dancers are extremely creative and comfortable in front of the camera. Others are a little more self-conscious or meticulous. While those things can be challenges, they’re also part of what makes my job so exciting. Sharing an artistic bond with someone you’ve often times only just met is always a thrill, and getting to work with so many passionate artists is wildly fulfilling and addicting.
RK: What is next for you? What are you hoping to accomplish next in the world of dance photography?
JT: Five years ago, I would have laughed in your face if you’d suggested I’d be shooting fashion and photojournalism in arguably the greatest city in the world. I can only hope that dance photography will also take me by surprise with the doors that it opens. I’m not seeking fame and riches, but like most artists I would love to continue to develop my style into something that people can recognize, as well as inspire other artists – in the same way that so many have influenced and inspired me.
RK: Are you currently looking for more dancers to work with? How can people contact you if they are interested in setting up a shoot?
JT: Yes, yes, yes. Absolutely. While I’m based in NYC, I’m happy o build contacts and relationships in other cities that I may visit at some point. I’m working on plans to be in LA this fall and Miami in the winter. You can check out my website, jontaylornyc.com, or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, you can find me on Instagram @JonTaylorPhoto.