Tell us a little bit about your “Dance Across the USA” project - what does it entail and what challenges have you faced so far?
Dance Across the USA is, at its core, a fundraiser for the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Park Service. I am traveling to all 50 states plus Washington DC, to photograph dancers with America’s beauty as their backdrop. All the locations are nationally significant locations, ranging from the Alamo to active volcanoes, from Death Valley to Glacier National Park. We have 56 locations, all done over 90 days, while driving over 22,000 miles to get to all of these spots. The challenges have been many! We have had car trouble, gear trouble, location trouble, model trouble, you name it! We pull permits for every shoot we do, and in National Parks, it can be quite expensive. Grand Canyon wanted to charge us $3000 to shoot there. We did not, choosing instead to shoot at Antelope Canyon, which still cost us $1000, but we got private access for three hours, and OMG… the images from there!
I came up with the plan for this in January, and we started it on June 28th. We put out a call for dancers on social media (we have about 55,000 followers between Facebook and Instagram and received about 2800 applications. I first narrowed it down to about 300 finalists, then chose 150 dancers to participate in the project. Then we had to finalize the route, the locations, and prepare to make the trip. I am traveling alone in my van, named the Mighty Buford, which I built out to have power (both 12v and pure sine 110v house power), a refrigerator, shower, kitchen, storage, bed, and of course carry my gear! We have been off-roading quite a bit, and as of this point have traveled 13,000 miles or so.
What inspired you to take on this project?
I saw a post around Christmas about a guy who used some swanky computer algorithm to create the most efficient trip around the US. I thought this was interesting, having been to all 50 before anyway, and thought, “How could I do a trip like this and make it worth while?”
I am a dance / circus photographer, and so I built the project around that subject matter. And I love our National Parks, so using them as a backdrop was a no-brainer. I’ve been very successful in my business (and thanks to Zenfolio for helping me have a great website!) and I wanted to give back. So I am donating my time, and my company’s time, to do this project. We are funded by donations, and all that money goes directly to the trip, permits, tolls, etc.
What have been some of the most joyful or unexpected moments of this project so far?
Arriving at a location and having everything be perfect, or lucky accidents that help you pull off an epic shot, those are the things that are incredible! So much of landscape photography is dumb luck. You can plan the location, the time, the date, and it could rain. Or snow. Or there’s a fire. Or a flood. Or perhaps, the stars align and there is a rainbow appearing as you drive up to the location - which happened at Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii. We sprinted to get it, and after about 90 seconds it vanished. But I got the shot! Or at Crater Lake, where the spot I had planned on shooting from was on fire, with one of the many forest fires burning out west. So a last minute scramble to find a spot that would work.
But being able to create my work, work with a purpose, in these amazing locations, there is nothing better! Sunrise at Olympic National Park, sunset at White Sands National Monument, dance astrophotography in Death Valley at midnight, and so many more. These moments all add up to being the most amazing project I have ever had the pleasure of being a part of - and I say that after 30 years in entertainment: working for Cirque du Soleil, Oprah Winfrey, cruise lines, Broadway tours, major motion pictures, and star-studded private events for the uber rich and famous.
How does the pursuit of this project reflect or connect to the kind of work you do each day?
My day to day photography is all performers - dancers, acrobats, singers, theater productions, etc. The first half of the year is all dance schools, with the rest of the year being individual and commercial sessions for clients. I am completely booked up through the new year, which taken be back into school season, and and already booking sessions for summer and fall of 2017! I shoot what I know, and I know performance. I was a professional performer for many years (member Actor’s Equity Association) then moved backstage doing the technical after injury stopped my performance career. So when a dancer is not en pointe completely, I know. When their pas de chat is weak or the Ring Leap isn’t right, I can call them on it. Being able to bring that expertise to my photography helps me create much better work. as a photographer, we want a pretty photo, technically correct and visually pleasing. But a dancer will throw the whole thing out if their feet are bad, or their hand is turned out weird.