Jordan Matter, dancers combine the sublime with the mundane

By Lee Woo-young

Photographer catches dancers everyday life but in extraordinary ways

  • Published : Jul 29, 2013 - 19:04
  • Updated : Jul 29, 2013 - 19:04

“She Said Yes” by Jordan Matter. (Jordan Matter/Savina Museum of Contemporary Art)
Jordan Matter, a New York-based photographer, has been shooting dancers in everyday settings ― out in a park, on a pedestrian walk, in a subway and restaurant.

The dancers’ bodies in motion against the mundane backdrops create images that people have never seen before: a man’s body drawn up in the air; a woman jumping a dozen times higher than the average woman does when her boyfriend proposes with an engagement ring.

The photographs capture the thrill and adrenaline rush that people desire as they go about their daily lives.

Matter’s lively, witty photos were published in a book, “Dancers Among Us,” in 2012, which became an instant hit on Amazon.com and made it onto the New York Times’ best-seller list. 
Photographer Jordan Matter poses for a photo in front of his work at Savina Museum of Contemporary Art in Seoul on Wednesday. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

The photographs are currently on exhibit at Savina Museum of Contemporary Art in Anguk-dong, Seoul until Sept. 22.

“There are a few important elements that are important to me. That’s the wow factor. You see people thrown up in the air and there’s an emotional impact, It’s exciting to see reactions from viewers,” said Matter during an interview with The Korea Herald on Wednesday during his visit to Korea for the exhibition.

Matter started shooting dancers in 2009 when he met Jeffrey Smith of the U.S. contemporary dance company Paul Taylor Dance Company. Matter told Smith about his idea of photographing dancers in everyday situations and had the dance company members collaborate with him.

“I like to have a collaborative relationship with dancers so we work together to create a story,” said Matter. “Dancers are used to telling a story using their body.”

Having collaborated with athletes for his other series “Athletes Among Us,” Matter said he could tell more interesting stories with dancers: “Dancers are used to expressing themselves physically while athletes are used to being physical.”

Matter meets dancers who volunteer to do photo shoots with him and goes around cities with them to find locations that can tell a story.

“One of the purposes is to create a fantasy world in everyday lives. Having dancers fly exaggerates everyday life and that’s what makes it more beautiful,” said Matter.

Matter worked with Korean ballerina Kim Joo-won during her visit last week to historic places in Seoul, including Gyeongbokgung Palace and Bukchon where traditional hanok houses are clustered.

“The magazine people I work with in Korea asked me to scout locations, and I said no. I think it’s much more exciting that I arrive on the day; otherwise I have to think about it for 24 hours,” said Matter.

The spontaneous and instant moment Matter is looking for is inspired by French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment,” which means to capture a uncontrolled, spontaneous moment happening in a fraction of a second.

“The decisive moment has less to do with perfect pose with dancers, but more to do with all the elements that come in together,” Matter noted.

By Lee Woo-young (wylee@heraldcorp.com)