Dan Merlo

How did you decide to start photographing dance?

An interview with CAR Researcher Rachel Thorne Germond

I took slides of the plays at the Station Theater in Champaign, IL. One of the plays featured a dance professor at the University of Illinois. She liked me and the work I'd done for the Station Theater, so she introduced me to the dance department. I had taken modern dance for fun during school, but I'd never photographed dance or even considered it until she asked me.

In your opinion, what are the unique challenges of being a dance photographer?

Money has always been an issue. You have to be just as creative making the financials work as you are with your artistic process. I enjoy the collaborative process and working with and for other artists, so I've always found ways to make things work out, especially when the projects are really interesting.

Can you talk a little bit about the line between photography as documentation (of a work or a performance usually used for publicity) and how you find photographing dance to be a vehicle for your own personal artistic expression?

Concert photography is much more about my spontaneous artistic response to what happens on stage. The art is in being there when there's something really exciting going on. The documentation is being tied to the space, for better or worse. More recently, I've found that studio or location produced shoots have a lot more of my own personal artistic expression. They tend to be a little crazier. More conceptual, more fantastical. Producing a controlled shoot allows me maximum collaboration with choreographers and dancers to create a fantasy and bring it to life.

Who are your mentors and inspirations?

Back in school, I remember being inspired by Cindy Sherman and Sally Mann, also WeeGee. I liked David LaChapelle's work, and Richard Avedon. Working in the industry these past years, however, my thoughts about photography have changed. The people I admired in the past no longer seem so iconic. I have mentors and many people who I think do good work, but I don't feel like I have photography heroes.

Can you share your insights on how to get started in Chicago as a photographer who specializes in photographing Dance?

They should meet up with some dancers that they admire and start shooting. They should focus on what inspires them about dance.

What is the most important characteristic that you strive to put forth in your photography?

Moment and emotion. Right place, right time, right feeling. There is something that only dance can express. When I photograph dance, I always feel like I'm hunting for those perfect moments when it really all comes together. I like getting inside the dance.


Dan Merlo started photographing at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana while pursuing a degree in writing and befriending a punk rocker roommate who was enrolled in the fine arts program. He curiously explored the nuances of film processing and darkroom techniques shooting with only a Canon AE-1 and Tri-X black and white film, and then gained exposure into the professional world of photography while working with a local wedding photographer. His images have been featured at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, the Chicago Cultural Center, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, Artropolis Chicago, the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, Downbeat Magazine, Guitar Player, as well as several other venues and publications.
Published by CAR_Angie on Wed, 09/03/2008 - 1:58pm
Updated on Wed, 02/24/2016 - 1:04pm