How does one top such an astoundingly successful project as “Dancers Among Us”?
That’s what photographer Jordan Matter asked himself after his collection of photos documenting dancers in everyday situations made it to the New York Times best-seller list and earned international media attention.
The answer, he found, was to capture more inspiring, physically gifted people displaying their talents in public. So he turned his attention to athletes.
“Even when athletes are not competing, they are living and breathing their passion,” Matter wrote on his website. “They playfully remind all of us to pursue our objectives tenaciously; to never give up and to keep striving for excellence, no matter what path we’ve chosen.”
In his new ongoing series, “Athletes Among Us,” Matter brings the same whimsicality and joy that brought him acclaim in his “Dancers” series. But there are a few big differences between the projects. A key one comes from working with athletes, who are not quite as accustomed to the creative process. “Dancers are used to working in an artistic, collaborative environment. Athletes are used to pursuing a specific goal,” Matter said. “With the athletes, if you give them something they need to do, even if it’s very challenging, they’ll go after it and do it very well.”
Next, there’s coming up with ideas for photographs, which with a whole new group of subjects, presents a unique challenge for Matter. “With dancers, if you’re in a fix, you can say, ‘Why don’t you do an amazing split jump here?’ With athletes, they can’t do a split jump. What they do is very specific to their sport. It’s what makes it fun,” Matter said.
Of course, those very specific athletic skills can have amazing results, Matter said, like when he photographed gymnast Jackie Carlson hanging in a split from a streetlight. “She said it was terrifying. It was terrifying for me. I thought she was going to fall or we were going to get arrested,” he said.
Many of the stunts Matter orchestrates are bound to attract police attention. Knowing that full well, Matter usually practices the shot he wants at another location in advance so when it comes time comes to make the actual photograph, he can get it done quickly.
Matter said he’s more concerned about missing his shot than getting in trouble with the authorities. “My general feeling is it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission,” Matter said. “I’m not doing anything that is in anyway dangerous to others. I don’t feel bad about it. If they ask me to stop, I’ll stop,” Matter said.
Though the series is still in its infancy, Matter has already photographed athletes in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. He’s captured members of the U.S. Olympic rowing team, NFL stars, and competitive longboarders. But Matter is looking for more athletes to photograph. Contact Matter if you are interested in being featured in his series.