Home is a little bit like leaving food outside the fridge.
It seems fine at first–the dangers are all theoretical–microbial–even hypochondriatic. But so much potential for sickness lurks under the surface and eventually, those things make their way into you.
I’m taking an extended trip to NY and am staying with 3 different friends in 3 different neighborhoods and that suits me like a work glove. Not the most elegant thing, but the right thing for the job. I get energized by rearranging where the home is and the food never has time to spoil.
The main reason for the trip is to work with my dear friends from Malpaso Dance Company from Cuba for their latest Joyce Theater season. They recently lost 4 out of 10 dancers and I’m hoping to grab a few minutes with the new dancers going into my works.
But I’m also staying here longer just to be here and to take lots and lots of photographs.
Day 1 – I traveled to Red Hook to visit with amazing visual artist Dustin Yellin. He makes these unbelievable collages of three-dimensional images sandwiched between layers of glass. His studio is insane and impressive and what artists dream about when they dream about New York. The first part of our meeting consists mostly of him answering phone calls and eating a ham sandwich. It is satisfying and bewildering to see an artist achieve such a level of success that he operates like a tycoon. His Pioneer Works next door (look it up. A wonderful place!) is hosting the Contemporary African Art Fair and I got dazzled and educated. African food was served in the courtyard and I ate chicken and chatted with a stranger.
Dustin and I took this photo together and I suggested we do it nude like his Vanity Fair article and his belt was unbuckled faster than I could say cheese. I left feeling like had been caught in a dust devil.
I spent an hour or so at a nearby coffee shop and learned that Red Hook brings hip to a college degree level. Out on the back patio, there was a non-speaking aged toddler wandering around pulling a yellow truck and rearranging chairs. He seemingly did not belong to anyone out there. The kid walked up to me and handed over his truck, holding it by the string. I took it from him and thanked him then asked if he wanted it back. He smiled and stretched his hands out, then wobbled away with the truck dragging behind him.
When I got back to the Lower East Side, I went to Shieurasia to look at exotic candy (there was a sweet potato Kit Kat that required microwaving), then walked my way north. An older barber stopped the haircut he was giving to stick his head out the door and speak to me in Italian. I don’t know what he said but he guided me to the chair next to him and I got one of the best haircuts I’ve ever had. This is a true story.
Today is my first of nine photo shoots and I get coffee for no reason.
I’m overly hopped up. Meeting a new person whom you are about to work with while they are naked is a unique experience, to say the least. It is one of my favorite kinds of interactions because it upsets so many of the paradigms we take for granted socially and this other person and I are forced to invent a new way to interact. I want the environment to feel totally creative and totally empowering for both of us, but especially for the person who is making the leap of being seen naked.
I meet with dancer Tayte Hanson. He has also just ended a two year contract as a porn star and I am curious to know what it will be like to photograph someone who has experienced that level of intimacy in a public way. I try to keep my presumptions at zero because his is one of the careers that we lump all of our easiest judgments onto. Those judgments are perhaps the most revealing about our own sexual wounds.
We get to the dance studio and Tayte shoots off like a cannon. Endlessly creative and full of energy. Literally climbing the walls. We get to know each other as we shoot and he describes to me a life of deep integrity and intentionality in his decisions in a way that resonates with me. There’s an exploratory focus with an intense learner’s heart that seems to be guiding an unorthodox path. He looks like Luke Skywalker.
As I get to know a little bit more about the fashion industry and how things work with models, I learn about the peculiar new constructs that come up to deal with nudity. The term that self-consciously skirts the middle line is “implied nudity.” I can barely say the words because it is so inadequate and domesticated and sounds more like pornography to me than most words. It basically means that the model is nude in the shoot, but no nudity is seen in the photograph. More on this later, because I think this is what my book will be about, but I want to call your attention to…
First, the model Ebonee Davis. She puts the distinction to rest with this gorgeous entry on her Instagram. Second, I am always negotiating with models to find the perfect and most safe place, so that they can work from a creative stance instead of a protective one. The shoot with Tayte was different because I was working with someone who had gone to the very edge of the cliff in his life and work, and the boundaries were more open than even maybe I could quickly be comfortable with. It was a gift and life-changing for me to be in the space where I did not need to keep the majority my mindgrapes on taking care of the model…but instead to just be in the place of creativity. My photos have not been the same since.
When we’re done, Tayte escorts me all the way on the subway to my next stop for the day, and I leave feeling like I’ve made a new friend.
I head up to the Parson’s Dance offices on 42nd Street. They face big windows and the flashing lights of Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. It feels like standing in fireworks.
David Parsons has been an important role model for me. A giant from Kansas was making a huge name for himself in dance. When I was a student at Houston Ballet Academy, he came and taught a master class. He walked in when I was getting ready in the dressing room and he thought I was someone he had partied with in Galveston. I completely played along with it (I had been in Galveston…in the audience, not on the party bus). In the master class I pushed my way into the front the entire time. It feels very special to now be working with the company today as a choreographer. They are going to be performing Ma Maison, a piece that was originally commissioned by New Orleans Ballet Association.
In the evening, my friend Jennifer and I made Paleo Chicken Strips and I told the story about when they were filming Reality Bites in Houston after I had just gotten into the corps of Houston Ballet. My friend Erin and I went downtown in the middle of the night and snuck onto the periphery of the set to watch. They were filming in the park and had created a newsstand set. At the end of the scene, Ethan Hawke turned and we made eye contact for like three seconds. Then he took this girl’s hand and (literally) skipped away. This story completely matters to New York 03, so keep reading…