As I photographed Rosie in the studio last week, something about her reminded me of my good friend and muse, Allyson Arena. Rosie is about the same age as Allyson was when I first photographed her (and her twin sister Jennifer) taking ballet class at Steps on Broadway in 1995. Rosie is 15 as was Allyson at that first shoot. Rosie and Allyson are both redheads but it’s more than that.
Allyson is my longest continuous muse. We’ve been taking pictures on and off together for over 18 years. I see Allyson more often now than I have in the past. She’s a special person. One of my dreams is to photograph Allyson and her sister Jennifer together as part of my mirror project. Twins and reflections; that would be so cool! I might add Rosie into the shoot, holding the mirrors that reflect the twins.
When I take a look at my first photographs of Allyson, the pictures from Steps, I see something of Rosie in her. 15 is a unique age for girls. It’s the crossover point from childhood to adult. It’s the age when girls truly become more like women.
It’s interesting because I’ve watched Rosie grow up from birth to the age of 15 while I’ve seen Allyson mature from that young ballerina into a professional dancer, performing on Broadway in Mama Mia. Early in Rosie’s life I knew she would become a muse and one of my favorite models. I knew Allyson would be a muse the first moment I saw her in class and I soon photographed both Allyson and her sister Jennifer in the studio.
My life is different now than it was when I first met Allyson. Then, dance photography was my life. Portraits were something I did more on the side. Now, it’s not quite the opposite but portrait photography is my true love as it was when I first moved to New York City. I still love photographing dance so much (I’m writing this essay during a break at an Alvin Ailey dress rehearsal) but I rarely take dance pictures outside of the dance studio or theater. I know that will change in the future but first I must find an inspiration that will make my outdoor dance photographs something different and special.
Rosie and Allyson are both part of my muse and mirror projects. Two of my favorite mirror portraits are of these women. Allyson gets me completely. Rosie is learning. Our most recent shoot broke down some of the barriers. I told Rosie, in my eyes from now on she would be an adult. That seemed to scare her a bit. Rosie worried I would expect more from her now. I thought that was a very honest response but kind of funny. I’ve always expected great things from her and at every age treated her with the same respect I would give an adult. The only difference now will be how much I push her during a shoot to get the emotion I need for the photographs. But I do that with every model.
The interesting thing is, I’ve recently reached that same point with Allyson. I push her more now at shoots and try to break down some of her boundaries. There is so much in this woman that’s never been let out and needs to be discovered. We did touch on the subject at our last shoot but we still have a way to go. I’m looking forward to whatever our next shoot will bring out in both of us.
Despite their ages, my photography with Rosie and Allyson is at a similar point. Rosie is breaking through into adulthood. Allyson is breaking the bonds and barriers often tying down a woman who has lived a life in dance. Maybe I should photograph the two of them together? Both have such warm souls. I think they will be like sisters. There is no doubt the pictures of these two women together would be something special.