Working with two very different dance companies in just two days.

I was lucky to be able to work with two dynamic dance companies in two consecutive days. The first was the Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater, which brings the energy of Harlem to Portland and the second was Portland Contemporary Ballet—for their 2019 season titled White Dress, which is a metaphor for ‘a choice that needs to be made’.

REJOICE! DIASPORA DANCE THEATER

The effort between the photographer and the dancer is a collaborative one. Dance is a continuous movement, but dance photography is about stopping time, of presenting dance as a singular movement. My responsibility to the dancer is to create an image that conveys the essence of what they do in a single image and in the perfect position.

Dancer in yellow dress on red background
Suspension of time and motion; one reason I love what I do. Capturing quiet moments like this take more work that you’d expect. She’s spinning, dancing, in motion.

For Rejoice!, the goal was to embrace a color palette and to create dynamic energy through that use of color. I was challenged to create visuals that heighten the contemporary and classic African dance roots. That meant finding moments, finding poses, and freezing a moment that hints at the joy and energy of this company. These dancers were fun and collaborative—they truly carry emotion through their bodies, and into their dance.

PORTLAND CONTEMPORARY BALLET

Ballerina with white dress flowing
I was thrilled to work with Muriel Capdepon of Portland Contemporary Dance for their 2018/19 season.

People ask all the time…’how did you get that job?’ In this case, Therese reached out to Portland Contemporary Ballet to ask for a favor. In doing that, she befriended artistic director Briley Neugebauer . And that led to this incredible shoot for their 2018/19 season brochure!

Portland Contemporary Ballet, featuring, Muriel Capdepon, Victoria Lauder, Katherine Evans, Sara Gilbert, Carla Coelho, Tessa Salomone and Ella Matweyou
Ballerina posing on pointe wearing white dress
Ballerina Muriel Capdepon wearing the white dress.

Capturing quiet moments like this take more work that you’d expect. We started our full day shoot with ballerina Muriel Capdepon wearing the white dress. She makes this pose look simple, but it’s exactly the opposite. Holding that position was near impossible, and the dress wasn’t being cooperative.

Carlos The Rollerblader for Portland Monthly

photographed by Andy Batt, December 2018

When a call comes in to photograph someone who titles themselves “Carlos The Rollerblader“, I say yes first, and then find out what the story is second. I’ve done other profile pieces for Portland Monthly Magazine, but Carlos’ portrait is one of my favorites.


First up, Carlos prefers They/Them pronouns. Yes this is new to some people, but it’s not that hard to do a little retraining and get your brain wrapped around the concept. Maybe it’s all the amazing SF that I’ve read over the past few years, but this just makes sense to me. The tricky bit is getting my brain to not need to be actively thinking about it, to get it firmly in place. This has nothing to do with making the image and everything to do with me being a better photographer.

I did some preliminary sketches and lighting tests on this one—the goal was to find a way of creating motion and direction, to find a visual metaphor for Carlos and their work as a stand up comedian and phone advice giver (seriously, Carlos will answer the phone and give you life advice). Also, Carlos is a rollerblader. Like, they perform on rollerblades, on stage. And everywhere else. Carlos has a constant feeling of motion, even when they are standing still.

Carlos arrived on set and we began the collaboration—they were a lot of fun to have in the studio. They also DJ professionally, so I turned over the airplay stream to them and we had killer music during the entire session.

I ended up with a carefully built, sculpted light look, designed to create beautiful tones where it hit and to drop off quickly to deep shadow where it didn’t.

The graphic quality of the light created that visual momentum, carrying you around the contours and lines of their face.

Of course, since it’s my brain we’re working with here, I had a second idea on the backburner—using a combination of a long shutter, carefully set continuous lights and a multipop sequence to add true visual sense of motion + I really wanted to do a full length shot to get those rollerblades in. It’s an old school technique but done with a deliberate intention in mind—it wasn’t about creating meaningless streaks or blur, it was making a connected graphic, echoing the design ideas in the portraits.

cheers
-andy

The Bad Choices Project gets it’s first graphic novel, with support from Lensbaby

Two characters from the world of Bad Choices stumble in the late afternoon along a riverbank

photographed by Andy Batt

Lensbaby, makers of creative effect camera lenses, asked me to help them launch a new lens, the Sol 45mm. They wanted me to choose a personal passion project, and for me, that meant a new story within the world of Bad Choices .

My first job was to integrate the Sol 45 look with my storytelling.

Lensbaby gave me a pre-production model to carry around and experiment with. It’s a distinctive lens with loads of personality. The important part for me was integration; I didn’t want to simply overlay a lens on top of an image. The lens needed to be part of the storytelling. There’s a swirling, dreamlike quality to the images the Sol captures, and I wanted my story to be communicating that idea as well.

My attempt at a storyboard. Don’t judge.
A lost inmate from an apocalyptic jail wanders the forest wearing a yellow helmet
Subject Fourteen wanders, lost, through the woods

I spent time sitting the writer’s chair.

I needed to discover which characters would be part of this world. This became an opportunity to add a character to my world. “Subject Fourteen” is someone who’s been stripped of his own name and lost in the woods. After creating a quick set of graphic novel storyboards to help me map out the story, and discovering what the visual story would be, I went looking for locations.

No matter how rough, creating a storyboard is integral to my process.
The look of the Sol 45 lens really became a part of the story.

“I wanted the helmet to feel like something that would trap someone, with various test probes and hoses attached to it.”

I turned to my costume designer Becca, and we came up with a backstory for 14’s outfit. He’s not the first ’14’ to wear it—it’s old, patched and worn, and now that it’s been through salt water, and a muddy slog through the woods. It’s real ugly. The helmet was tricky. I didn’t want it to be military or look like a robot. I wanted it to feel like something that would trap someone, with various test probes and hoses attached to it; a helmet for testing someone and keeping them isolated. My prop master Galvin Collins jumped in to create a ‘savage’ level build. He created a full package of working parts, age and damage, mysterious hose attachments, medical gauges and straps.

Sketch storyboard for Misled #1
Amitesh Prasad plays “14” and Tina Kraft is Turner

We had an amazing day on location, creating everything that ended up in the book, and working with the crew from Lensbaby. It took some time to refine the design process, do a few rewrites of the sparse text and dialog, but now that I can look on it as a final printed piece, I can say that I’m happy, and truly looking forward to writing and shooting Misled No. 2

-andy batt


Misled issue No. 1 on sale now!

As part of the fundraising to continue the project, this beautifully printed 24 page graphic novel is on sale for $25—completely overpriced! BUT it comes with a signed mystery 5×7 print, my hearty thanks, and the joy of knowing you supported ART! You can always go read the comic online—it’s FREE to read, and FREE to share. If you like it, buy a print copy!