(Book Review) Dancers After Dark by Jordan Matter

By Kelsey May Fraser

dancersDancers After Dark is a triumph of photography, dance, and beauty. The collection contains more than 150 images and dozens of inspiring, insightful quotes. The subjects of each photograph are nude dancers in beautiful, haunting, awe-inspiring poses. All of these photographs were taken in the evening, night, or early morning. Each image adds to the reader’s appreciation for the human form and all its possible arrangements. You’ll find yourself in awe with each page turn.

Photographer Jordan Matter alternates between images of individual dancers and group compositions, arranging each dancer in their surroundings like a flower or bouquet in a vase. The selective lighting  within the dusk and darkness of each shot makes sure these dancers are the central focus. Their poses are accented by deep shadows, and their expressions are softer and more withdrawn at night. It took Matter two years to arrange and take all the photos, and he writes briefly about how saddened he was when the project was finished. Dancers After Dark is his second collection with this subject matter; his first was called Dancers Among Us, and while the dancers in that first book weren’t in the buff, they were photographed in striking poses in everyday places. His projects also include Athletes Among Us, Circus Among Us, and Tiny Dancers Among Us.

If, like myself, you are an American from a relatively conservative background, Dancers After Dark may challenge you to confront your ideas about the human body, and rightfully so. These images are a celebration of the human form and what it’s capable of–whether that is hanging from a lamppost by one limb or perching on a cathedral scaffold twenty feet off the ground. You’ll find yourself open-mouthed at the amazing feats the subjects perform, as well as their elite level of physical fitness.

One of the book’s four main sections is “Vulnerability,” fitting for a book which depicts dancers in partial-nudity (everything save for what’s between their legs). “To be vulnerable is to put the true you on show for the world: that’s the most terrifying and rewarding thing a person can do,” says Sam Baskett, one dancer quoted in the book. Dancers After Dark invites readers to reach a place of vulnerability in their own spirit, to find acceptance and self-love  as these dancers have demonstrated on the pages of this book.

Many of the scenes are shot in urban settings–hotels, subway stations, sidewalks, bike lanes, public fountains–but some are in more natural environments–ocean shorelines, waterways, and the branches of trees. One memorable pair of photos depicts a woman in two stages of life: first pregnant and standing barefoot in a snowy Central Park, and then, five months later, nursing her infant in the same location. The images provide a sense of time and touch on the cycle of life in the midst of a project that otherwise focuses almost exclusively on adult subjects.

Another image shows a woman hanging from metal scaffolding a dozen feet off the ground by only one leg. She is all angle, a still life of limbs. The photo, in black and white, is breathtaking. Below, passersby mingle and carry on with their evening. The time stamp is 8:34 PM in Stockholm, Sweden. An ordinary night. An unordinary photo.

In another image, a rustic barn against a mountain backdrop sprawls across two pages. This shot was taken during sunset, and the sunbeams radiate in shades of blues, reds, purples, and pinks, a mosaic of peaks and valleys. Framed against the barn’s silhouette is a single dancer–oh, and did I mention there’s a foot of snow on the ground? Despite her surroundings, this dancer is resilient and poised. Again, we see humanity at its best: proud, graceful, at one with the world.

The final section of the book tells behind-the-scenes stories from Matter’s photo shoots, one of the most memorable being a quote from a security officer at the New York Public Library who shouldn’t have allowed Matter and his dancers to do their shoot on the library’s steps, but decided to look away in the name of art: “Look at that, my phone is ringing. I’m going to turn my back and take this call.”

These dancers represent strength, grace, and confidence, characteristics we need more of in our day-to-day lives. Pick up Dancers After Dark to feel inspired, encouraged, comforted, and awed by a diverse and enthusiastic cast of dancers from around the world.


Kelsey May Fraser has written book reviews for Blue Lyra, and she was the nonfiction editor for fishladder journal of art and writing in 2015. She is a published poet and essayist and enjoys books from a wide range of genres.

One comment

  1. […] Dancers After Dark by Jordan Matter (Workman Publishing) This visual treat celebrates the human body in both the natural beauty and disciplined talent of its subjects. Photographer Jordan Matter convinced dozens of top-level professional dancers to pose nude in public at night. No permits, no warnings, just guerrilla photography and the naked bodies of folks who have devoted their lives to using them for expression and meaning. This is a breathtaking photography collection. […]

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