As regular readers know, this past summer I undertook an in-depth review of the Nikon D300 camera. My initial plan was to shoot the sorts of photos that I know I’m good at. But shortly after taking my first set, I resolved to push past my comfort zone and shoot subjects that I normally wouldn’t think of as “mine.”
This worked well in a few ways. First, of course, I got some great images. But perhaps more importantly, I came into contact with people and situations that I normally wouldn’t. And out of that came some good stories. Here is one of those stories that illustrates what I’m talking about.Jennifer Coneybeer is a ballet teacher. Formerly of the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater, and more recently Seton Hill’s community dance program, she opened up her own school, the Ballet Academy of Irwin. A mutual friend suggested I stop by to talk to her about my photo project, and I did.
Her studio in the basement of an old school was busy with eager students, and I was wary of taking up too much of her time. But I managed to catch her between classes and explained my project.
Ms. Coneybeer immediately understood what I was trying to accomplish and graciously invited me to photograph some of students. We chatted for a while about dance and about art. When I say “we chatted about dance,” I of course mean “I listened to the person in the room who knew something.” I am only familiar with the concept of “grace” as something that other people have.And yet, there’s a connection between the dancer and the amateur photographer, between the musician and the writer: the decision to undertake an activity that is, fundamentally, not about making a living, but about the desire to do something for its own sake. Art.
This is not to say that a great photographer, dancer, musician, or writer must never get paid well. It’s simply to observe that never, in all my years on this planet, have I encountered a young man who eagerly tells me, over coffee, “Yeah, and I’m learning to do some double-entry bookkeeping in my spare time, for fun.”
As someone who programs computers for a living, I realize that I am on thin ice. I am one of those people who will learn a new programming language simply for fun, which many people probably view as madness. Presumably somewhere on the internet there is an accountant who is reading this and is offended. I beg your forgiveness; call it artistic license. But even computer programming, in its best moments, shares something with dance and music: it is an act of creation, of expression, and (when fueled with sufficient coffee and panic) improvisation.I thought about this as I took photos of Ms. Coneybeer’s students. The mood in the classroom was serious and determined. If they were uncomfortable with my presence as an interloper, they were able to ignore it by focusing on the work at hand.
When you’re 6 foot 1, there’s no real way to be in a room with ballet dancers and not feel like a hippopotamus. Being in that situation with 7 pounds of camera equipment made me feel like a hippopotamus playing the bagpipes. I’m pleased with the results, though.
Photographing dancers is not my forté. But I still was able to get a few good images I wanted to share with you. Thanks to Jennifer Coneybeer and the Ballet Academy of Irwin for the opportunity to share our respective arts with each other, and with you.