By Dick Kraus
Newsday Staff Photographer (Retired)
This isn't so much about dancing as it is about knowing something about your subject matter.

It is not uncommon for many of us newspukes to be sent on stories about which we have no knowledge or understanding. Heaven knows that it has happened more than once in my long career. Like most of you, I always felt that I was pretty knowledgeable about many things. The truth be told, I know a little bit about a lot of things (but, I don't know enough about you. Ooops. Sorry, I couldn't resist humming a few bars of that classic old song.) However, our civilization has gotten so complex that it's impossible to know everything or anywhere near anything. That's why Presidents, Popes and other world leaders have advisors.

Frequently, I would be assigned to a story about which I knew next to nothing. Reporters usually have the luxury of going through the clips and going Googling to get background on a subject before an interview. Photographers call their desks after finishing an assignment and are told by their editor, "Get over to City Hall/Town Hall/ Federal Court/the local sports arena/you name it. Joe Shmo is holding a press conference." Most of the time this doesn't matter. We're there to get a photo. It probably doesn't matter if you've never heard of the person.

But, dammit! It should. Wouldn't it be nice if we knew what the person was all about before we started making frames? Perhaps that extra insight would allow us to make shots that were much more relevant. Wouldn't that be nice?

This attitude goes for all kinds of news photography; news, sports, fashion. Yep, even fashion. When the fashion writer tells you that she needs a shot of the ecru colored, patent leather Gucci pumps, it would make your job a lot easier if you knew what the hell ecru was and that pumps didn't refer to those thingies at the gas station that put gas in your car.

I got the idea for this journal a couple of weeks ago, at a local dance. Aha! Now you get the connection to my clever title.

In my senior citizenship I have allowed my lovely fiancee to convince me that I would enjoy dancing. I took lessons to humor her and much to my surprise, I found myself enjoying it. Don't look for me on the popular "Dancing With The Stars" TV show. I am not a star, nor is what I do on the dance floor much like what you see on that show. But, it gives me something useful to do with my retirement time.

One of the dances that Barbara and I attend is a swing dance (aka jitterbug, Lindy Hop) at The Brush Barn in Smithtown (Long Island, NY.) It's run by The Swing Dance Club of LI the first Saturday of every month, and they had a live band playing at the November affair.

© Phil Marino for the NY Times.
Looking through a window into a restored historic old barn where the Swing Dance Long Island Club rocked the joint.
© Phil Marino for the NY Times.
A live band, Little Cliff and the Cliffhangers provide the music for the Swing Dancers.


While we waited for the band to set up and the music to start, I saw a tall, slim, young man walking around with a digital Canon slung from his shoulder. He was setting up a radio remote flash unit in one corner of the hall. I was curious, but I kept my distance as the music started and the dancers took to the floor.The band began with a nice bluesy jazz piece and I became intent on trying to keep the beat and not step on my lady's toes. I love jazz music and the beat gets into my soul to the point that I start to believe that I really know what I am doing on the dance floor. As intent as I was with my dancing, I could recognize electronic flashes going off in my peripheral vision. After a few sets, my weary old bones got the better of me and Barbara and I sat out the next few in order to regain my strength.

© Phil Marino for the NY Times
Roberta Aliperti dances with her husband Joe Aliperti at the Frank Brush Barn.

Oh, by the way; that's me and Barbara at the left.
It was then that I was able to see the young photographer at work. He would pop out into the middle of the dance floor, squat down on his haunches for a low angle, and focus on a pair of dancers. He held his Canon up to his eye with one hand and in the other was a flash unit connected to his camera with a coil cord. He would hold the flash as far off the camera as his arm would allow, which was a technique that I often employed when I was still a shooter for Newsday. You don't get that washed out, featureless appearance that you get with the gun welded to the camera. You get a more three dimensional look. Plus, his remote slave in the corner gave him some cross or back lighting, depending on his position on the floor. I admired the way he worked; moving back for establishing shots and in tight for close-ups. He worked with the confidence that most news photographers seem to come by naturally. He didn't seem at all fazed by the fact that he might be interfering with the fast moving gyrations of the jitterbuggers. He had a job to do, and was doing it remarkably well.

© Phil Marino for the NY Times
The photographer spent a lot of time focusing on close-ups of flying feet.

The only glitch that I could see was that his timing was off. He was missing a lot of the peak action. His flash would go off, and an instant later, the dancers would swing out and one of them would fly through the air. I recognized the problem. He wasn't a dancer. He was unfamiliar with the steps and routines.

Been there; done that.

Phil Marino shooting for the NY Times
I walked over to him while he was snapping on a 200mm lens, and introduced myself. I told him that I had been a shooter for Newsday for 42 years. He told me that he was familiar with my work at Newsday and that he read "Assignmnet Sheet" in The Digital Journalist. He turned out to be Phil Marino and he was stringing for the New York Times. They were doing a series of articles on dancing for the Long island section of the paper. Before I could say anything, he admitted that his job would be a lot easier if he knew more about the dance routines. We spoke about how much it helped when you had some knowledge of the subject you were photographing.

© Phil Marino for the NY Times
Debora Tarricone and John Pomeroy at a monthly swing dance at the Frank Brush Barn.

If you don't know the dance steps, you could end up with fairly static shots like the one above.


© Phil Marino for the NY Times
Debora Tarricone and John Pomeroy at a monthly swing dance at the Frank Brush Barn.

You are more likely to come up with great action shots like this if you are familiar with the dance.


I concurred. I told him that the little bit of high school football that I had played had certainly come in handy when I had to cover football games. You know, things like knowing that if a team had 3rd and long, it would be a passing play and I could position myself downfield so I could photograph the reception. Or the interception. Whatever.

But, covering Girl's Field Hockey or Polo or Soccer...that was a sport of a different color. I missed a lot of key shots because I didn't understand the nuances of the games. We had both experienced similar circumstances on a variety of assignments. We belong to a magnificent brotherhood and can empathize when we see a member of the club experiencing similar problems.

Phil had to get back to work and Barbara needed her partner for the next round of dances. I still watched him work whenever I took a break. He was very innovative and I knew that he would have a good take for his efforts.

Barbara and I left before the dance ended and Phil was still hard at work. I walked over to him, shook his hand and wished him well. I thanked him for giving me grist for this month's journal.

The story and his art run in tomorrow's NY Times. I am looking forward to seeing it.

Dick Kraus



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