Originally published Dec 10, 2017

Here are some excepts from my recent diaries while shooting and choreographing in NY…

“On the plane to NY. My furnace is on high. The same bottomless sound from a stereo turned up full-blast as the one that makes it possible for me to tech a show in 2 days…the crackling boom that radiates out from my middle, with only the supple resistance of muscle and bones, the one that made it possible to make a dance company happen for 10 years…an aching, insistent pair of hands on my back, pushing me, is surging full force because I know what NY is. Everything is possible. Collaborators and as-like-minded-as-are-possible-anywhere artists are climbing the walls and ready to do this. I will suck the marrow out of every minute.

The main thrust of my visit is to work with Parson’s Dance Company to tech Ma Maison so they can start touring it. It’s been a project long in coming with a lot of postponements so I’m happy that it’s finally happening. The company has performed my duet Hymn so I am familiar with the dancers and really love working with them. This will be my first time touching Ma Maison after they have learned it twice. I think the piece is a really good fit so there are no dreads as I head toward the studio.

The rest of my time will be for a goal of 12 photoshoots crammed into every crack I can find. I’ve grown to love planning photoshoots in NY. The complexity is like guiding a canoe down a river as it heads toward a waterfall.”

“It’s day 2 in NY and I feel delirious. I love it. I still feel that pressure and pushing outward, in all directions…it’s as if I can’t possibly fulfill every potential that exists in each of the pathways and so I feel evaporated into specks. I’m dividing myself to become more of myself.

Day 1

I got up yesterday to have breakfast with my very good friend Ella Baff. She was the presenter that brought TMP to Jacob’s Pillow for so many seasons and now she’s back living in NY. I trust this woman’s perspective in everything that comes out of her mouth. There’s nothing she keeps in her field of vision that she has not given careful and fair and quite loving consideration to. I wish that breakfast could last all day, but we have things to do.

New York is overcast and gloomy. It feels like staring out a foggy window knowing that an ocean is all around you but it’s completely out of your sensory experience. It makes the city feel like a room. It’s small. I head way uptown to work with model Tony Pracek. I winged today a little bit and didn’t come up with locations so we are shooting in his apartment. Under the clouds of today, everything has a quiet and surreal edge and it is dangerous, not physically dangerous but somehow psychically dangerous, to not only be doing something so intimate with a stranger…to make photos in the nude, but to also enter their lives…the place where they live. It’s like being a teenager and going into a drug dealer’s house. I’m here for the adventure and I know there’s some kind of point of no return involved.

In the evening I shoot with dancer Christopher Bursley. I’ve made photos with him before so we were excited to work together again. The cards are stacked against us because we try to shoot in my limited resource AirBnB and he can only work late, so I have to use a flash. I’m not super-experienced in lighting with a single flash and no other light source so this night was all about experimenting and learning. American Apparel has kind of cornered the market on what use of a flash like this looks like, so I tread lightly. We end up with mixed results and make a plan to try it again somewhere else.

Day 2

I got up early today to shoot in my favorite dance studio with a gigantic skylight. I’m working with model Bobby Penney and haven’t had a ton of contact with him so I don’t know what to expect. He turns out to be an excellent human and a great athlete. We had a really creative shoot and ended up using everything in the room: the barres, the chairs, a spare piece of fabric from the curtains. He had been studying meteorology when we was discovered and went from complete country boy to city boy and from the looks of it, seems to be getting everything out of it.

Took off uptown (and see a few American Apparel ads that look nothing like my photos) to have my first rehearsal with Parson’s Dance Company. This was the first time I’ve touched Ma Maison with them. I only have a few days with the dancers so I assumed it would be a tough accomplishment to get it where it needs to be. They really blew me away. So much integrity and kindness in this company. A lot of caring for the piece and great creativity. Some really inspired moments actually…ALREADY! We got enough work in on each section that I was able to do a run all the way through even!

Had diner liver and onions with the boss, David Parsons, one of my childhood role models and I am ready to bore a hole through my pillow and sleep sleep sleep.”

Day 5

There is an equilibrium beginning where the force of my momentum is no longer exceeding the limits of reality…as much. Having more than one shoot in the day helps. It’s like having more forest for the wildfire to consume. Happy to sleep in one extra hour and make my way to Brooklyn to shoot in this gorgeous white studio with tons of extra light. I worked with two different models who were at two different extremes of the spectrum. The first, Patrick Dapuzzo, was less comfortable with nudity so we shot in underwear amidst the burning swaths of bright light that divide up the space. The second, Colin Murphy was more comfortable. When I interviewed him afterward (video to come), I asked him how he became so comfortable in his body and he said,”my favorite part of my body is my penis…because it’s really pretty.”

I sat and talked with the owner of this dream studio for awhile afterward. He invented a process for hydrating hair and if his insanely impressive hair is any evidence, it works perfectly.

Off to the 1st tech rehearsal with Parson’s. I’m actually sitting in the theater writing this to you. The Ma Maison costumes cover the full body and the dancers wear masks. It’s a bizarre feeling to see them stand on the stage because they could easily be the dancers from TMP whom I saw do this piece a thousand times. But the rehearsal starts and they completely embody the work in a new way. They are individual and wonderful in it.

Day 6

Somehow the entirety of NY was in a slow down today. Everyone’s train was running late. My first location was at the Gibney Dance Studios and the security guard was a no-show, so the sidewalk was packed with dancers in the freezing cold for a whole hour. It gave me a chance to meet my model for the day Brian Brigantti. He’s also a photographer and stylist and we talked shop out in the tundra. When the doors finally opened, we set to fast work, banging something out in an hour. He was perfect to work with and we got a ton of amazing images in spite of the time constraints.

Back to the theater for the final dress of Ma Maison.

The dancers are about to go on a month and 1/2 break so it feels weird to be having a final dress rehearsal and no show. But they give it everything as if that were the case. We all go for a drink afterward and I love them. Such an optimistic and genuinely positive group of people.

I finished the day having dinner with my very longtime friend Andrea Lauer. She’s designing the set and costumes for the piece I’m about to do for BalletX at the beginning of the year. I met her when she showed up at my house out of the blue to help me make a movie when I was 24 and living in Houston. She’s become a designer with great perspective and originality. I love her too. There is something very unique about collaborating with a person you have known for so long.

To bed with me now for an 8 hour shooting day tomorrow! 4 different models!

New York is the best place when you are busy.

On the airplane home. It’s like a slow canoe glide down the river compared to the rocket-ship I have been ride em cowboy-ing across Manhattan and Brooklyn. This was such an incredible trip creatively. Every pore in the concrete offered a new potential. I’m invigorated both by how successful the management of so many moving pieces went and the content that came from each experience.

Let’s catch up on yesterday:

Day 7

I booked an 8 hour day in a studio in the upstairs of what I’m going to deduce, based on clues gathered by my eyeballs, was a massive furniture refurbishing operation. There were huge rooms with rows and rows of what were clearly repainted and reupholstered ornate pieces. The studio had one giant window and an insufficient skylight since the day was a cat-blowing windstorm.

I arrived about 40 minutes early, hoping to find some breakfast. The best I could do was deli eggs without a roll (I was given the roll anyway) that I ate hovering in a doorway while leaves blew into my mouth. The storm was beautiful. I felt thankful to be in this spot.

My studio had several selected furniture pieces that I could work with so it was kind of a play land. I’m not usually working with furniture in this way so it was fun to art direct and come up with concepts.

Sean Howe had been kind of a last minute booking. We connected on Instagram, but he had a really intensive rehearsal schedule so it looked like it was not going to work. But at the last minute things shifted and it was a perfect start to the day. After my shoot the day before with Brian Brigantti, I thought I recognized Sean in the lobby and in fact it was him. That is another kind of impossible coincidence. Sean was so creative and open. I felt like I had known him forever. He had an intuitive sense of what the photos I wanted to make were about and he went directly to it.

Blake Clendinin was a model and former ballet dancer. He’s from Georgia and has every bit the rhythm and eccentricity of a southerner. What a special and amazing combination of that with a New Yorker’s directness. He was excited to get back into his dancer brain and play around physically.

Christopher Bursley has become a frequent collaborator as this was our 3rd shoot in NY. There is a really special comfort and experimentation developing in our working relationship. There is truly something about developing connections with artists that still maintain autonomy…like an artist/muse dynamic. I think one of the frustrating things in having a dance company was the day to day reliance and enmeshment that came from literally being so dependent on one another. In relationships like this, we can go in and out, have separate lives and experiences and then reconnect and make something beautiful.

Kyle Martin is a dancer with the second company of Alvin Ailey. He was so organized and helpful in making the shoot happen. Focused and in some ways of few words, he treated the shoot with complete professionalism. By the end of the day I felt complete physical fatigue. Holding my arms in the same position for 8 hours was kind of shocking by the end. The last hour kind of felt like the last leg of a marathon. I had very thankfully thought ahead to book a massage right after so I could recharge and conk out.

Day 8

Today was in the most amazing location of my trip. A long warehouse space with 14 skylights. Another 8 hour day so I came more prepared (food, some stretching). It was the coldest day of the trip, but the studio had heat radiant floors and that was everything…though they were broken at one end so the landlords went to Home Depot to get me some space heaters. I love them!

Aaron is kind of another perfect human. Like dizzyingly handsome and out of control with kindness. He is a model who also works in the medical industry and lives his life in the caring of others. What we did is kind of his hobby and creative outlet though clearly he could make it his life if he wanted to.

Nate Klingenberg had never done a shoot in the nude before. He said he was a little nervous but jumped in with full commitment. He is an actor (and had 3 lines on the last season of Orange is the New Black). He has a really heroic look…like a superhero. You would trust him to hold your baby if you needed to do something different with your arms. We had a very fun conversation and he was someone who’s acting chops were apparent in the photos. Content-filled. Tons of depth.

Trent Hayward has this tremendous sense of style that makes you feel like you don’t belong in NY. But at the same time is so welcoming and inclusive. What a nice guy. He was fearless and literally climbing the walls. He has this insane set of eyes that pull you in to get 2 inches away from them with the camera.

Henry Steele had just landed back in the US after an immigration debacle that trapped him in Ireland instead of rehearsing with me on Ma Maison. Literally off the plane the night before, it was so good to get to connect creatively in some way. I had also worked with Henry before and our first shoot was a unique, meditative encounter. One of my favorite memories behind the camera. He showed up and the last patch of light was fading, so we jumped right in and he hopped up on the table to be in it. He is someone I could shoot for hours and forget time completely. He finds some kind of presence that I haven’t seen any other version of. It’s a way of feeling close without speaking. I almost shoot him like I’m filming…mapping frames that record the entirety of his movement. Afterward, we got to catch up over dinner and he sent me off in a cab to the airport.

Times like this in NY are some of my absolute favorites in life. They tempt me into wanting to live there, but I wonder if I could sustain and be happy in the pace. I wonder how much of it is just that it’s a different and focused time. When I’m not busy in NY, the city hurts my feelings. There doesn’t seem to be a way to connect with humans without actually doing a thing. Connecting creatively is brilliant. I feel like I can offer NY so much and the people I encounter certainly offer me a lot. So then there’s this thing of how do I live a life immersed in that level of creativity and still endure the ebbs and the necessary resting? I now anticipate a week of total depression and feeling lost. It’s not dark thinking, it’s just knowing who I am and how it goes. It makes me wonder if those transitions would be unbearable living in a place that only needs you when you’re productive.