Rachel Straus - Dance Writer

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Published: September 1, 2007
Category: profile

Erin Baiano: Dance Photographer

By Rachel Straus

Erin Baiano discovered her new career the day her boss double-booked himself. Veteran dance photographer, Paul Kolnik had agreed to shoot New York City Ballet in Manhattan and to take pictures of Hairspray in Seattle on the same day. Before rushing to the airport, he gave his 25-year-old administrative assistant an express tutorial. “I had no interest in photography whatsoever,” says Baiano, who had recently retired as a corps dancer with American Ballet Theatre. But as she crouched and aimed while taking pictures of NYCB, she realized she hadn’t had such a good adrenaline rush since her dancing days. “Something clicked,” she says, “and it wasn’t just the camera.”

Baiano left ABT in 2001 at age 24 because, she says, “I knew I had gone as far as I could go.” After shooting NYCB for Kolnik, Baiano visited Career Transition For Dancers. She completed an extensive questionnaire and learned that independence and autonomy should be part of her next career. She bought a camera with half of a $1,000 grant from CTFD, and spent the rest on courses at the International Center for Photography. In 2005, she again covered for Kolnik, this time as arts section photographer for The New York Times. “Photographers have an intimate relationship with luck,” says Baiano. And her first gig, shooting the Pennsylvania Ballet for the Pulitzer Prize-winning paper, was her lucky break. Since that day, her development into a professional photographer has skyrocketed. The Times arts section photo editor began sending the native New Yorker on assignments—sometimes booking her for five shoots in one week.

Not that the transition from ballet dancer to freelance photographer has been picture perfect. “If I get sick, I don’t get paid,” says the 32-year-old. And unlike her former corps-dancer life where she worked as part of an ensemble, Baiano has had to learn to work alone. Running her one-person business means dealing with record-keeping and legal matters such as incorporating her business. She’s also had to push herself to be more assertive in the photojournalism world. During those first years, the petite brunette tattooed her left arm with the Hindu god Ganesh, the Remover of Obstacles.

“Dancers will always be okay,” she says. “We already know that no job is for life.” She uses many of the traits she honed as a ballet dancer in her work as a photographer: perseverance, precision, aesthetic sensibility, and, though she hasn’t taken class in four years, an ability to bend her body around the most awkward places. When she says, “It’s hard to capture something in one 200th of a second,” she could be talking about a pirouette preparation.

“It’s always good to have computer skills,” Baiano says, describing how fate led her from Kolnik’s studio to full-time work as a freelance photographer.

“Now,” she says, “I am the architect of my own destiny.” And for Baiano, that’s picture perfect.

Read article at Dance Teacher

Copyright © 2007 Macfadden Performing Arts Media.

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