Motivated by a New Opportunity

01I don’t consider myself a competitive person. However, I enjoy the challenge of capturing compelling images of others in sporting events. Mud on the Mountain at Seven Springs seemed like it would offer a variety of new opportunities for my mind’s eye.

02 copyThe weather was cooperative & the runners were enthusiastic subjects. Unfortunately, I had not done enough planning to know where the Mud Pit or other messy locations were & missed one of my primary goals of photographing tight muddy faces.

03A wide perspective the scale of the challenge, an important part of the story. It sets up the impact of tight shots. Atop the Laurel Highlands, I found this migration of competitors that reminded me of images from the Klondike Gold Rush. It’s a different environment & perspective from climbers in single file hiking up a snow-covered pass. In my mind, the push of human endurance was a common element. I also imagined the stark contrast when the terrain was snow covered with skiers speeding in the opposite direction.

04This is my favorite tight action shot of the event. I had spotted her with the war-paint mask as a flight of runners was preparing to start. I immediately noticed attitude & knew if I saw her on the mountain she would have emotion & character on her face. I had found a good position with minimal distractions in the background as runners exited wading thru a lake. She was one of the 1st runners thru after I was in position. Her determination is profoundly obvious.

05In addition to the 7.7-mile run/hike up & down the mountain, there were 30 obstacles. I had zero experience with this type of event from a visual perspective. I wanted to explore perspectives. Although there were “elite runners” competing to win, I believe most of the athletes had a personal goal or focused on just finishing. I did see teamwork as well as athletes helping others beside them. I recognized Mud on the Mountain was as a true personal sporting challenge where collaboration met compettion.

06I’m not sure when or why the Halloween tradition of costumes seeped into many large events. These are not the typical outfits of the competitors. However, they do stand out! Full disclosure, I knew they were a trio of characters but I really had no idea who they were from. When they told me they were from Super Mario I felt foolish for my lack of gaming pop-culture.  My gamer engagement ended at Pac Man. If you don’t know ask.

06a copyI had walked around this climbing challenge 360 degrees before I found a position where the background was clear of distractions. Each runner found a unique way up, over & down. I had good framing with the lines of the wooden structure & the blue sky. Now all I needed was somebody to insert something other than their butt into the frame. Until I sorted the images I had no ideas she had stuck out her tongue when I pressed the shutter. It certainly wasn’t a reaction I anticipated. I knew the elements were in place for a good shot & her expression made it a winner.

6b copyEven though I never made it to the muddy challenges, this shot comes close to what I had seen in my mind’s eye. In this image, there are many stories on the face of this athlete. I find it interesting how the curving contrasting double necklines & the hint of the Batman logo set up his face while the horizontal orange headband divides my attention. A bad hair day can be a strong element. This is another one of my favorite portraits.

6cI believe it is rewarding to put challenges in front of you & attempt to go over them. It can be physical challenges like this event or exploring your creative skills outside of your comfort zone. That is what motivated me to go to this event with my camera. I might go again but if I do I will make sure I do the necessary planning to get to the muddier parts of the course. I can’t speak for any of the competitors that were on the mountain on that glorious spring day, but from my perspective, this runner is a good example of what this event is about. Giving your best attempt at doing what you set out to do.

 

 

 

Inspired by Collaboration

My minds eye for Dance Photography was to capture that moment of form. Following Mary Miller & Charles Hall as they created a new performance for the Nandanik Dance Festival. I witnessed talented professional artists building a performance.

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Creative collaboration is a dynamic process especially when the artists involved have known & worked together for 20 years. Mary has danced professionally since 1967. Her work in Modern Dance doesn’t mimic what others do. In Charles’ career as a musician, he has had many opportunities to work with Mary as an accompanist at classes, with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater, Civic Light Opera & many site-specific theater performances.

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The essential musical talent Charles brought to the development of this work was his drumming. However, his presence on stage & interaction with the drums became an integral part of the choreography. Mary was the motivator of movement. Their ideas merged & evolved as I experienced more than just a few chances to capture some photographs.

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In the rehearsal studios of Point Park University, where Charles is an accompanist, Mary guided the staging & basic flow of the piece. Charles was nurturing not only the live voices of the drums but a soundtrack he would record to add another musical layer. Watching the free flow of ideas between these professionals as they cultivated their options during run-throughs was intriguing.

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Mary likes working with people who don’t take themselves to seriously because they are more open to what they will experiment with. During her career, she has worked with poets, fiber artists, sculptors & other artistic partners. Talking with Charles about the collaboration he immediately remarked upon the importance of trusting the other people. They must be invested in working together & listening to all ideas.

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Mary’s interaction with the drums & music developed into a vehicle for Charles. As the design of the piece came together, his character observed her & the drums with trepidation. Until, with her enticement, he became comfortable with making his own music. Their combined interaction added emotion & character to the work now titled “Friendship”. The resulting music at the hands of Charles unlocked the movements Mary had been walking thru. In true Miller style the performance with a live musician was much deeper than possible with just pre-recorded music.

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With opening night a few days away the Tech Rehearsal at Carnegie Library & Music Hall, they went over the props, audio & lighting with stage manager Joan Greenwood. With as much combined experience as both Mary & Charles have they realize the importance of coordinating with “the house” to put the final details on their work.

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The difference between the rehearsal studio & the tech run-thru on stage is significant. It isn’t just because of the lights, audio & space. This is where the final decisions are agreed upon while defining positions in the actual environment. Their movements in their final rehearsal became even more precise as the performance was almost at hand.

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It is difficult to say if it was decades of experience, self-confidence or the diversity of her career that leaped out as she began polishing the final touches on “Friendship” during the Tech. It was obvious Mary was headed for a new crescendo I had not yet seen. Even though I had watched the piece develop I was anxious to see the final result.

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With the background soundtrack complete Charles was confident in what they had forged from their ideas. He had channeled his initial reluctance to be moving around on the stage into a motivation for his character.

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“Friendship” had become more than contemporary dance. It was a musical performance. It was theater. The drums weren’t just instruments & props. They played a supporting role. The collaboration of vision, experience, talent & trust was now what I was seeing.

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The night of the performance the dancer, the musician & the drum ended the work by exiting stage right as they had done in rehearsals. This time they had a little more spring in their step. The culmination of all of their work & molding of ideas had reached the inevitable conclusion with style.

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After returning to the stage for their bows they each stepped back gesturing to the now static & silent drums acknowledging the role they had played. They had not done this in rehearsals but I was ready & got the shot. Not what I had originally envisioned but I captured my moment of form for a scene that was part of a very human story.