Freeze Frame: A Sneak Peek at James Jin’s Dance Photography

Looking at a choreography, we see image after image, animated by movement, animated by a performer. But distilling the dance into a single image is an art form in its own right. In just a few movements, a spectator can immediately discern a story, an emotion, or even identify a choreographer. Jazz hands flexed in Bob Fosse’s work in Chicago, the punchline in Michael Bennett’s work in A choir line, and more, all take their own lives when isolated from all the work.

New York photographer James Jin made it his mission to do just that: to make still art out of dance. Jin sees his photography as not only to get a pretty picture – by working with dancers from Broadway and beyond, Jin hopes to communicate inner emotions with outer movements, thoughts channeled through form and form. Playbill sat down with Jin to talk about his journey with photography, his process of capturing dance, and his creativity.

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Freeze Frame: A Sneak Peek at James Jin’s Dance Photography

You are known for your dance work in New York City, but how did you first discover photography as an art form?
When I first picked up the camera, it was when I was in high school, around first grade. I feel like a lot of the things I do now have been shaped by a desire to be noticed and to feel special. I took my father’s film camera and started taking pictures at school. I always had my camera handy, and it ended up leading me to [photograph] for the high school newspaper. That’s when I picked up a digital camera and started taking more photos.

Sounds like you had a passion for photography as a medium in general. How did you finally choose dance photography as a specialty?
I was interested in the arts, but never saw a career in it [for me] so I ended up going to college on business. But I started dating my wife, who is a dancer, and she inspired me to pursue dance photography. She was in a dance studio in Atlanta and I started taking pictures of her and her friends. Working with them I realized I was good at it. I mean, looking at these pictures now, I’m like, “What was I thinking?” [laughs]. But I think when you feel good about something and you feel that kind of confidence and self-worth, it allows you to take a little more risk.

I have been following this [business school] path that was mapped out, but photography made me realize that there were other things I could do. We knew that after college we were going to get married and go to New York. But that’s the hardest part, right? You move here and you’re like, “OK, I’m going to do some great things. Or at least there is hope that you are going to do some great things. And then you realize, “oh, like no one knows who you are.”

I was here [in New York], and I had to make a living, and I had no idea how I was going to do that. You think, “I’m going to do portraits, I’m going to put out portrait flyers at Ripley Grier,” and then nobody shows up because there are so many other photographers. I remember going to Ripley and seeing the bulletin board and realizing, “Oh, there are so many people doing the same thing. How do I stand out? I think that’s what prompted me to pursue different opportunities.

It was a lot of ups and downs and questions: am I doing the right thing? Did I make the wrong decision? But I think the more I [photographed], I would ask these questions a little less frequently. It was definitely a trip.

Obviously, that persistence worked, and now dance photography is a touchstone in your career. How does working with dancers appeal to you?
I think that in general artists and dancers are a little more open to the idea of ​​the unknown. I think the possibilities are endless out there, and it’s exciting. I think what motivates me the most is the idea that I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know what kind of images we will have.

I see this exploration in your work associated with the form and form of movement. Can you talk about your process and how you collaborate and create?
When I work with someone my goal is to give you a blank sheet of paper, a blank slate, a blank canvas. There’s no mold I’m trying to fit you into. I just want you to fill it in with your own colors. Hope if you do your best and give it your personality then it’s gonna look totally unique.

I don’t care about your technique. I do not do it. I don’t think that’s the most important. It’s about how you feel and how you connect that with movement. We start in this big [explorative] cloud, and I’m starting to limit it a bit more. We are starting to delve into slightly more specific intentions. For me, it’s not a question of the photos or the result. It’s about the process and the way we work – photos are memories of our time together. If we’re having a good time then [we’ll make] some great photos.

During this time of pandemic, many performers – performers and studio artists – struggle to feel creative. Do you have any tips for finding inspiration or staying creative?
I would say go where he feels uncomfortable because that’s usually where the interesting things are. And I know it’s hard right now, eh, especially with everything going on [in the world]. It’s hard to add Following faintness. But I think once we get past that uncomfortable threshold, I often think you regain greater self-esteem. Everything is not going to work out. I don’t promise that. But stay, [pushing yourself creatively] is an opportunity to be seized.

Follow Jin’s photographic journey on Instagram.

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.



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