Dance Photographer Uses YouTube to Take Risks

Dance Photographer Uses YouTube to Take Risks

 © Jordan Matter, Courtesy of Workman Publishing

© Jordan Matter, Courtesy of Workman Publishing

By Darcey Pittman

What happens when you put talented dancers, an energetic photographer, and an interesting location together? You get Jordan Matter’s recipe for success on YouTube, showcased through his widely viewed 10-Minute Photo Challenge series.

Matter features dancers from across backgrounds and prestige in his photographic work, using YouTube to capture his intense photo shoots. The goal of Matter’s challenge is to see how many unique photographs he can get in 10 minutes. The videos usually occur in a public, urban environment, often in New York City, where Matter photographs dancers in action. While the photos themselves pose interesting stories, the real intrigue is watching Matter’s creative process in action.

In about a year’s time Matter went from a meager 200 subscribers on YouTube to over 1 million, with many of his videos receiving well over that in views. The initial incentive for Matter and his team was to reach 10,000 subscribers so they could use YouTube’s studio for free, but it quickly became so much more than that.

“If you look at the 10-minute challenge, it's basically just a dude taking pictures and telling stories with the photos,” Matter said. “But what makes it exciting is the celebration of that process.”

 © Jordan Matter, Courtesy of Workman Publishing

© Jordan Matter, Courtesy of Workman Publishing

 © Jordan Matter, Courtesy of Workman Publishing

© Jordan Matter, Courtesy of Workman Publishing

Matter was originally an actor who, despite his family’s background in the field, never saw himself pursuing photography. He randomly decided to take a photography class, found a passion for it, and turned it into a full-time career about 14 years ago. While his commercial work has varied, his most well-known photographs are those of dancers sharing a story.

Matter values taking risk in his creative endeavors; he certainly takes physical risks, such as running into New York City traffic to shoot, but for Matter the real risk is in confronting fear of failure. He sees risk taking and fear of failure as going hand in hand.

“I'm willing to take physical risks, but the bigger thing is, I'm willing to fail,” Matter said. “I'm not embarrassed by failure.”

From being a middle-aged man on YouTube to shooting for 24-hours straight, Matter is willing to push himself outside the box of what being a photographer typically means. He is always trying to push himself with his photography, his process, or a combination of both.

“Basically, my process is if I come up with an idea and I've never heard of it before, I'll do it,” Matter said, later adding, “If I've done something a bunch of times I get bored with it. I don't want to do it again.”

 © Jordan Matter, Courtesy of Workman Publishing

© Jordan Matter, Courtesy of Workman Publishing

Matter also pushes the envelope by ensuring a diversity of body types, gender, and ethnicities are represented in his work. Featuring famous Dance Moms stars is not enough for Matter, he works to open up a dialogue on difficult topics through his work, such as accepting dancers of a larger size and overcoming cancer through dance.

Matter’s push for diverse representation resonates with people across the political aisle, as although Matter leans left, his viewership spans the political spectrum. Having been approached by fans in “Make America Great Again” hats, Matter is proud his work can unite people despite political differences.

“We're in a very divided time and there's a lot of anger out there,” Matter said. “Yet, if you talk to anybody one on one, you get to know them, you tend to generally like them more than dislike them and I just want to remind people of that.”

 © Jordan Matter, Courtesy of Workman Publishing

© Jordan Matter, Courtesy of Workman Publishing

Matter’s nonpartisan content continues in his latest book, Born to Dance, which focuses on documenting childhood in all its triumphs and challenges. Featuring young dancers, Matter focuses on childhood as a time of growth, learning, and play while also exploring possible setbacks, including bullying, puberty, and divorce.

“I was excited by [the theme of childhood] because it has this nostalgia for the adults, but then it also has real life implications for the people going through it,” said Matter. “I realized that if I did it right, I could speak to both groups.”

Many of the photos in the book feature a QR code linking the video showing the image being shot in action. Already a New York Times bestseller, Matter is ecstatic that his five years of travel and shooting have culminated in Born to Dance. To learn more, visit Jordan Matter on YouTube and check out his latest book.

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Memory, Connection and Loss: The Work of Hope Herman Wurmfeld