Last summer, I was told that a grand piano had somehow washed up ashore directly under the Brooklyn Bridge. How could that happen? I thought. Was it a joke? I had to see it for myself. So, as I often do with camera at hand, I got on my bicycle to see what people were talking about. I had no idea what to expect.
As I approached from the southern end of Manhattan, where the sun had just risen, I couldn't quite believe what I was witnessing. Under the massive Brooklyn Bridge, arguably the most iconic location in NYC, I saw from a distance a Grand Piano that appeared washed ashore, sitting perfectly on a small stretch of sand. I parked my bike and jumped the fence!
I was so moved as I sat in the sand and just looked in awe at what appeared to be this living-breathing 3D object in the most unusual setting: A Mason & Hamlin grand piano, looking small in scale under the Brooklyn Bridge with dynamic clouds and the Manhattan Bridge visible in the distance. It looked too perfect -- as if it was painted. It would be totally appropriate if one saw this set in a music video or a feature film... it was that charismatic.
I just could not shake the image from my mind... I knew there had to be more. And then it hit me over the head: I needed to take this to what I considered a whole other level of beauty. I emailed and described the scene to my friend -- and one of the great dancers in the world -- Misty Copeland.
I described the landscape and asked if she would be willing to meet me at 5:30 a.m. in the morning during sunrise to photograph her and the piano under the bridge. "Yes, absolutely!" she said, without hesitation. I was floored at her commitment to collaborating with me, as she was in the midst of a grueling ballet season at American Ballet Theatre, where she rehearses eight hours a day and performs some evenings.
We arranged to photograph that following morning. There was no time to coordinate, no time to put a team together. It became one of the most organic, simple and inspiring shoots I have ever done. She came prepared with a black leotard, pointe shoes, her hair and makeup done and fully excited to get started. To have someone in front of my camera of her fame and talent, with not one ounce of 'Diva', was a joy!
Misty became the missing ingredient as the sun appeared. Not much was said after welcoming her. There was a lot of silence, but I could feel the camaraderie as we took it all in. I know she felt the heartbeat of this piano and could imagine the music playing as she became engaged. The sun embraced her -- time was limited as it rose quickly and there was no wasted movement. She moved gracefully, dramatically and with intent all over the Mason and Hamlin -- sitting, leaning, standing, en pointe. Misty interpreted this encounter with so much elegance and dignity that all I could think of for weeks afterwards was a flawless artist dancing effortlessly in this rare setting. Although the photographs are quite special, they almost seem secondary to what I saw that morning with my own eyes.
I didn't do anything with the pictures. I just put them on my site. It wasn't until a month ago that I decided to publish Misty Copeland Power and Grace.
I am moved how humility, decency, grace, beauty, brilliance, imagination, discipline and foresight have given Misty a voice that is resounding and speaks volumes about her drive to make a difference in the world today. Her talent is genius and her generous soul is equal to that ability. As her fame skyrockets, it seems her benevolence and accessibility also expands... so rare in our world of celebrity.
Young girls of all colors aspire to her voice and talent, as Misty is transforming the hue of classical ballet by her own example. In being named the first African-American female promoted to principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, she has bypassed all the stereotypes of classical ballet and in doing so, has inspired so many. Her growing fame as a dancer clearly gives her this platform, but like visionaries past, she has accepted this role and demanded that others listen.
It's that powerful voice that comes through, combined with images from the sunrise shoot, in the book. I hope it empowers kids and that they carry this book in their backpacks and take on the world like Misty has.