Photographer Erin Baiano was doing a favor for her working single mom when she started dancing as a kid with Ballet Hispanico on the Upper West Side in New York City. “It was a place where I could go after school, so mom didn’t have to hire a babysitter,” she says. “I also did horseback and gymnastics, but ballet was what stuck.”
Baiano danced for six years with American Ballet Theater. When she decided to stop performing, she began doing administrative work for dance photographer Paul Kolnik. Then one fateful day four years ago, Kolnik managed to double book himself, at the New York City Ballet and at “Hairspray” in Seattle. “Since he couldn’t be on two coasts at once,” says Baiano, “he armed me with a camera.”
She believes that her dance background made her a natural at dance photography. “Both are mediums where you are expressing yourself silently and visually, and they are both about timing,” she says. Because of her training in dance, she can synchronize herself with the music and anticipate crescendos. The optimum moment to capture dance, she says, is “when the dancers pause, when they hit a position fully.”
Dance photographers sometimes shoot from the wings, but often take pictures from the rear of the auditorium. Last spring she was clicking away behind the back seats, trying to be as invisible as possible. “As much as you try to be quiet,” she says, “people can hear the camera.” And then they complain about the noise. That night she had already suffered at least one tirade, and when Graham Lustig approached her, she thought, “Oh no, here we go, another noise complaint.” Instead Lustig invited her to submit her work for a show at Douglass College that would include photos of Lauri Stallings’ choreographic process.
“I was never a person who always had a camera,” says Baiano, who has freelanced for the New York Times. But photography suits her. “I was drawn to it because as a dancer I was always under scrutiny. To be behind the camera was safe place for me to be after being a performer.”
Photographs by Erin Baiano, Mabel Smith Douglass Library, 8 Chapel Drive, Rutgers University, New Brunswick. On exhibit through May 31. 732-932-9411.