(Special to What Jasper Said)
Jason Ayer is a Columbia native and creator of the Palmetto Pointe Project which will be highlighted starting this Friday at Cool Beans Coffee Shop on College Street through October 30. His unique and captivating photography collection showcases local dancers in unconventional settings far from the confines of the dance studio.
When asked why he chose to photograph dancers, he laughs and says, “Taking pictures of beautiful women is never a bad thing!” But, the father of two added jokingly, “If I were twenty years younger I’d do it for the women; now I do it for the art.”
Ayer’s interest in photographing dancers began as a high school student in Charleston. He did technical work for the Youth Company in Charleston, and moved back to Columbia in the 1980’s and tried his hand in theatre by performing dance and musical roles at Workshop Theater for a decade. “I did a little bit of everything--singing, dancing, and acting.” Now, Ayer is the photographer for the USC Dance Program as well as the Coquettes.
At first glance, the Palmetto Pointe Project is reminiscent of New York’s Ballerina Project which has received widespread recognition from the Wall Street Journal to the Australian ballet blog Behind Ballet. Quite popular on Facebook, The Ballerina Project is inspiring photographers nationwide, although Ayer says his aim is not to mimic the successful venture which focuses on photographing dancers amid elaborate cityscape. His artistic vision spotlights the dancer rather than the setting. “In The Ballerina Project, the landscape often overpowers the dancer,” he says. Ayer prefers to match the setting to the dancer by drawing out their personality in each image, or for a more bold approach, taking them out of their element. Ayers’ process for a typical photo shoot involves meeting with the dancer at a location in the Columbia area, and then focusing his lens as her inner creative spirit is revealed through choreography and movement.
Ayer seeks to get the dancers involved in the creative process as much as possible. “What ends up on the canvas relies on them.” He says dance photography is about capturing the personality of the dancer, and oftentimes this is achieved by placing them in settings that may contradict their personality or challenge their creativity. Not only do the dancers drive the photo shoot with their artistry, they are given the final say on all the photographs. Ayers will not display an image that the dancer has not previously approved. “If the dancer doesn’t like it then I’m not going to use it.” The dancer also shares in the profits of any images sold in which they appear.
Ayer and his ballerina subjects are making something unique to Columbia. His photographs are site-specific and therefore nostalgic for Columbians. Palmetto Pointe Project is uniquely South Carolinian and true to the artistic setting and lives of the dancers it portrays. His slogan is, “See some familiar and not-so-familiar places in Columbia through the eyes of a dancer.” While he seeks out niches of Columbia for his backdrops, the dancers are central to the art. Each image is named for the dancer and not the place. Most of his subjects are performers with the USC Dance Company, but Ayers is interested in expanding the project to include other local dance companies as well.
Goals for the project include a website (already underway), a calendar, and you can check out Palmetto Pointe Project on Facebook now. Friday’s opening will offer the public a chance to meet Ayers, purchase his prints, and meet the dancers featured in his new photographic works.