I’ve been having problems with my old 24-105mm lens. It has been completely rebuilt and works well with most of my cameras. All was good until Canon gave me, really, gave me a 1Dx camera body for free. My older lenses don’t seem to communicate well with this new camera when it comes to the auto-focus mechanism. The camera appears to be confused, focusing all over the place – not often enough on the subject that needs to be sharp. It’s not good!
Caitlin Trainor was planning a studio showing of two duets she performs with Kaitlyn Gilliland. They would do a rehearsal of the dances early in the afternoon and then perform the same two pieces for a small audience. This would give me a chance to photograph the rehearsal using an old camera body with the questionable 24-105mm lens and afterwards, the performance with the new body with this hapless lens. If more pictures were in focus with the old camera I’d know for sure I had a problem. The good new is If the lens was indeed bad, my contact at Canon had promised to replace it, for free! Sometimes being a decades long good customer has it’s benefits.
I wanted to walk up to Barnard from my apartment but was running late. I had hoped to photograph cigarette butts along Amsterdam on my way up. I took the subway and figured I’d shoot some cigarette remains around the subway stop near Barnard’s front gate. I got out of the subway station at 116th Street and looked around. The streets had been swept clean. There was no dirt, no garbage, no cigarette butts! I’m not sure I had seen anything like it in the entire city. It looked like Chicago!
I finally found a few butts near the Barnard Gate – mostly in the dirt surrounding the small trees planted along Broadway. I walked uptown along Broadway finding a few interesting remains but it was the cleanest stretch of sidewalk I’ve seen since I began the project. I realized I had enough new photographs for this essay and headed into the dance building at Barnard only to get lost in the basement before I finally found the studio with Caitlin and Kaitlyn.
I was on time. The dancers were resting, preparing for their run of the two pieces – Kaitlyn/Caitlin, and a new dance — yet unnamed. I had photographed in this studio before. It’s a difficult place to shoot with all of the distracting garbage in the room. The wall of windows forming the background are both wonderful and a problem at the same time. They add great light to the room and when used properly can frame the dancers but at the same time I have to be careful not to have the window frames spike through the heads of the dancers. One thing I especially dislike about location dance photography these days is that the photographers don’t pay attention to the backgrounds. If a pole in the street or a tree branch is coming out of a dancers head it usually isn’t pretty.
For some reason when I’m shooting Caitlin and Kaitlyn together in the studio I always feel self-conscious. It’s the only studio situation where I’ve ever felt this way. I’m not quite sure why. I’m very close friends with Caitlin and she’s very close to Kaitlyn. That’s part of the dynamic and it does matter even though I met both women separately. During a rehearsal Caitlin always wants to know that I’m doing. It’s very sweet that she cares but it’s her rehearsal and should be all about her needs and not remotely about me. During most studio rehearsals I rarely never speak to the choreographer, no matter how close I am to them. This is their time to work and I also need to concentrate. We can talk at some other time. Whatever. It takes me longer to get my focus at Caitlin’s rehearsals but in the end it all works out.
I’ve shot Kaitlyn/Caitlin almost since it’s inception. It was a solo for Kaitlyn Gilliland until I came upon the scene, thinking it was a duet – a better dance with the two of them together. It seemed different this time in the studio. The last time I photographed the piece was when it was danced in a black box stage. I don’t think the difference was the environment. I believe Caitlin and Kaitlyn have become closer and now relate to each other in a different way. It shows in the dance.
The second dance is a joint-choreographic project, both women working together on the choreography, the mood and steps coming equally from each woman. There is no music. The dance is set to their voices – sometimes conversations between the two women – sometimes their own personal thoughts. Years ago I was not a fan of “talking” during a dance. I felt dance should always be done to music. I’ve worked with Bill T. Jones for over a decade and he has changed how I feel about voice and dance. His work, and especially his most recent pieces are largely based on words as the background for his choreography. Music is most often the background for the conversation.
This piece is new. As a team, Caitlin and Kaitlyn are still working out their choreographic voices. I met Kaitlyn as a classical ballerina and this is her real transition tomodern dance. She wore pointe shoes during this piece but after the showing realized the dance would have been better in bare feet. I don’t know? She’s probably right. Will she be comfortable when her feet touch the ground?
It will take me a while to understand the new dance. I wonder if both women understand it themselves. While photographing the showing I felt the words were strong though at times the emotions seemed forced. Still, the words themselves were stronger than the dance. I think that’s because the steps are still new. There was a talk with the audience after the performance was finished and though not fully discussed, I think the conversation led to the possibility the two women hadn’t yet completely let go in this new format of dual choreographers. When I later discussed the dance with Caitlin I told her it is the reason I never do collaborations. I don’t think I can ever be comfortable sharing the content-decisions of my work with another person.
I had dinner with Caitlin and her husband after the show. We spoke more about the dance at that time and all the things that make life as an artist in New York City difficult. There are so many things both of us want to accomplish – always battling time and the cost of living. We try to figure out how we can survive working solely on our art?
I walked home, first down Broadway and the final stretch along Amsterdam. I always know I’ll find enough cigarette butts along these streets to make me happy. I passed the church where only a few days before I had photographed Shen Wei and stopped across the street at my local grocery store for milk and kitty litter. I realized my life was approaching a nexus, a link between my friendships, work, and home-life. All were becoming one with no borders. Cats – portrait – cigarettes – dance – dinners – cigarettes – shopping – cats – retouching – cooking – writing… back and forth, all as one. It’s very different than my past life where things were more set. It is enlightening and terrifying at the same time but I have no choice. This is my new path and my reason for being.