What sparked Michael Nelson’s Before the Curtain series was a shoot with a model who was a dancer. Fascinated with a concept of photographing dancers on a much larger scale, he embarked upon an extensive pro bono project with the Atlanta Ballet Company that took him into two worlds—the theater from the vantage point of the audience and the other world backstage that the audience never sees.
Nelson worked on the project for two years almost a decade ago, and he looks back on that time not without some emotion. He describes it as “magical,” as well as “something I could contribute to,” because of the non-commercial nature of the project. He considers it great fortune that the company’s artistic director gave him free rein to photograph both from the house and backstage during the ballet’s rehearsals, and his resulting portfolio holds images captured from both vantage points, though he suggests that the most meaningful for him are the backstage portraits.
A commercial portrait photographer, Nelson considers all of the shots in this series to be portraits, whether group or solo. Images he likes best are those that tell a story about someone, and this series has quite a few strong examples. And while he once thought there was some separation between his fine art photography and his commercial assignments, he says he has come to recognize the same heart and passion for what he sees and photographs is true in all of his work.