There’s an inherent irony to photographing performance, I think - and, at times, to designing for the stage, especially for drama.
The ideal is, sometimes, not to be noticed; for your work, however complex or difficult it may have been to complete, to just be accepted as part of the production; not showy, or calling attention to itself, and jolting the audience out of the experience. If someone thinks ‘wow, what a great lighting cue that was!’ then it possibly wasn’t, because they noticed it. A truly great cue would be subtle, almost subliminal; and it would have the emotional impact that moment required, without necessarily being detected by the audience.
And so it is with photography - the ideal is for the camera, and the photographer, to be completely invisible - both to the performers on stage, and equally to the person viewing the photos later - and for the images to be a clear portal into the production, in a sense.
So, ironically, the better I am at not being noticed in the construction or design elements of an image, the more successful that image usually is…
There are a thousand different ways to go about creating a ‘teaser’ or promotional image for a show, so this is just an example of what we did in this particular case; but for me, the overall approach is usually the same: get to know the script, the characters and their relationships, find out about the design & directorial concepts for the production, come up with some visual ideas that underscore elements of what’s being created, and (if necessary) scout for locations that will work for what we want to achieve.
In this case, for the Darlinghurst Theatre Company production of Once, my feeling was that connection lay at the heart of the story - the relationship between Guy and Girl (as the characters are known), supported by the community of musicians they encounter through the course of their story…
“It was a matter of the best you could do between now and Tuesday.” However, he was quick to add, “the best you could do between now and Tuesday is still a kind of best you can do...”
I first heard this quote from cinematographer Alex Funke, at the time a neighbour of mine in New Zealand - who worked for many years in the offices of Charles & Ray Eames - and it stuck with me as being something that applies to all creative work, especially in performing arts.
I had a chat recently with hosts Nate Edmondson and Suzy Wrong at the Closing Night: Theatre Therapy podcast, along with photographer Clare Hawley, about what’s involved in theatre photography - the business, as well as the art - and that episode has just been released over the weekend.
We talk about a lot of different elements of what we do, so I though I’d put together a few links here to some of my blog posts that overlap with the discussion, in case anyone wants to read more about a certain subject - or if I make more sense in writing than I do on the radio!
Six characters in search of a voice, Small Mouth Sounds is a near-silent play featuring a group of individuals sharing a silent retreat, the quiet broken only by the pronouncements of the self-declared guru they’ve come to learn from. But will they learn anything from him, or each other?
The play is as much about the baggage the characters bring with them to the retreat, and how each of them handles their own failures and weaknesses - or, completely fails to - over the course of a few days together. In silence…
I wouldn’t describe myself as a massive fan of horror films, but I’ve seen my share. So when I was contacted about photographing Alice In Slasherland for Last One Standing, I was certainly interested - the idea of doing horror-comedy on stage is something that doesn’t get explored that often; apart from Evil Dead: The Musical I’d seen in Toronto years ago, I couldn’t think of another example off the top of my head.
Of course, theatre lighting is an interesting challenge at the best of times for a photographer; add in saturated colours, strobe lighting during action sequences, and fast movement in low light…well, it’s tricky!
I’ve been working with director Dino Dimitriadis from Apocalypse Theatre for several years now, on shows around Sydney; in fact, I think Angels In America is our tenth production together! So it’s only natural that we’ve gotten to know each other’s methods of working, over that time.
It’s interesting to have an ongoing working relationship like ours; it’s not something that happens all that often, as a freelance photographer in the arts. Often we’re not contacted until quite close to production, with the result being that whoever’s available on the day is the person who does the work…
I’m really pleased to be spending time with Darlinghurst Theatre Company this year - their whole mainstage season, in fact - not only because they do good work, but they’re also really lovely to work with. So it’s great to be ducking over to the Eternity Playhouse on a regular basis, all through 2019!
The annual Carols by Cabaret event was earlier this week, once again raising funds for the Wayside Chapel’s annual appeal - donating a plate, to feed homeless residents on Christmas day.
This was my third time at the event, volunteering my time once again, to help in a small way - and as always it was a great deal of fun, featuring some of Sydney’s best performers from shows at the Hayes this year…
As I mentioned this time last year (and the year before!), not long after I moved to Wellington in the late nineties, Peter Jackson started filming the Lord Of The Rings right in our neighbourhood of Seatoun, where I was living at the time. By the end of principal photography, I had been an Elf, an Orc, a Gondorian and a Rohan - most of them dead, some of them killed by the person I'd been playing the day before - on sets all over the Wellington region.
By the time the films came out, I was also a photographer - and by the premiere of the third film, there were a few more of us there…
Theatre, dance, opera and music are some of the things I most enjoy working on as a photographer. But surprisingly often, I get a call or an email that starts off, 'I know this is short notice, but' - and it can be anything from 'we've just realised we need a photographer for next week' to 'our dress rehearsal is in an hour, can you make it?'
Often, this isn’t the production's fault - they had someone booked, something happened, they need to find another photographer on short notice. But it got me thinking recently, what's the best way to involve a photographer in a show? In an ideal world, how & when would I like to be contacted…?
The cast members of Apocalypse Theatre's production of The Dapto Chaser, by Mary Rachel Brown, photographed on Thursday, 30 April, 2015. The show takes place at Griffin Theatre from 1 - 15 July, 2015.
For the Sinclair family, the cut-throat world of greyhound racing is a religion. And their beloved dog Boy Named Sue is more than a greyhound; he’s their heart and soul on four legs. With the crucial Winnebago Classic on the horizon, Cess Sinclair has one shot at reversing his family’s fortunes for good. Against all the odds, he’s betting on a miracle.
The Dapto Chaser is warts-and-all Australian comedy that gets its hands dirty with the adrenaline, sweat and guts of the dog racing sub-culture. The Sinclairs are a family trapped in the pressure cooker of gambling addiction and when things don’t go to plan, they are forced to gamble the most important commodity of all – their relationship to each other.
Playwright Mary Rachel Brown wrote The Dapto Chaser perched in the bleachers track-side, while director Glynn Nicholas will be going on an all-schnitzel diet to get it over the line.
For photographers who use the Elinchrom lighting system, one of the appealing parts of the kit has been the ability to take portable studio lights into the field, and do (more or less) whatever we could do indoors with them, out in the wild.
The Quadra / ELB battery powered system has been around for a while now - I started using it a few years ago with my Canon gear, but when I switched completely to Fujifilm’s X-Series cameras earlier this year, it limited a few of my options in terms of how I could trigger the lights. The high speed options went away - but as of now, late September 2018, they’ve released the Fuji version of that trigger; so naturally, I got in line to get my hands on one as soon as they arrived…
Over the past few weeks, we've embarked on a new project over at the Kage Collective - we've called it Chronicle90, and we're posting a new essay every day for three months straight.
As there are currently seven of us in the collective, it's broken down relatively easily into a different person each day of the week (though we did swap days after the first month).
In the course of those first seven weeks, I've been over to Canada and back again; so my essays so far have been in and around those travels, visiting family and friends where I grew up before moving to New Zealand and Australia…
I've written before about the friction of change when you upgrade or change photographic equipment; how getting a new camera can actually make you a worse photographer for a while, as you re-learn everything you've done by instinct for a long time.
Well...I've done it again. (Hopefully it doesn't show, except in a good way!) But sometimes, everything just falls into place.
I worked with Alex Berlage back in January on his marvellous show, There Will Be A Climax - so I was really pleased when he got in touch a little later to talk about his next project, and see how I could get involved on it...
For me, this show started in a warehouse, lying on the floor.
The director, myself, and a model needed to put together an image for the Mardi Gras brochure, before casting was even underway; so we worked together (on the floor) to come up with a look that could say something about the production, without revealing too much - either in terms of the show, or the body.
Because we did know at least that - there were certainly going to be bodies, on stage...
It's hard to remember to credit the photographer everytime you post something on Instagram. There are so many hashtags and tags to include, plus the location, not to mention the caption - something sometimes gets missed.
But...what if it wasn't that hard? What if you could automate your hashtag / photo credits, for every show? And what if it was actually EASIER than typing them on your phone, even ONCE?
In November 2016, I spent ten days travelling in Japan - my first time in the country, and also my first few days with a new camera, the Fuji X-T2, so naturally it was a great way to test out and bond with the new equipment.
I only took three lenses, the same three I've used for a few years now - 18mm, 35mm, and 56mm, which work out equivalent to 28mm, 50mm and just under 90mm - a classic travelling kit of prime lenses.
"An assorted few are convinced they are stuck on a spinning revolve."
So that's pretty much all I knew about There Will Be A Climax, going into the dress rehearsal. There's a revolve - noted. Be ready for movement.
Over the past few months, I've been testing out a new camera, the Fuji X-T2, specifically to see whether I could use it for things like theatre - whether the autofocus would work in low light, whether it would be as good as the Canon gear I've worked with for the past fifteen years.
I'm pretty sure this show proved it is - and then some...!
As I mentioned this time last year, not long after I moved to Wellington in the late nineties, Peter Jackson started filming the Lord Of The Rings right in our neighbourhood of Seatoun, where I was living at the time. By the end of principal photography, I had been an Elf, an Orc, a Gondorian and a Rohan - most of them dead, if I'm honest - on sets all over the Wellington region.
By the time the first film came out, I was also a photographer, with red carpet access for the Australasian premiere at the Embassy Theatre; and a year later, I was back - this time, with considerably more people lining the media pen, and Courtenay Place...
Over at the Hayes Theatre in Potts Point, they do keep busy. It seems like every few weeks there's a new production opening; most recently, the musical High Fidelity, from Highway Run Productions & director Neil Gooding.
As with everything I've seen at the Hayes, the cast and production are exceptional - in a lot of cases, they've come straight from a much larger show to work in this ~100 seat venue, so there's certainly no shortage of available talent in Sydney, at every level of production.
And the reviews reflect that; so of course, the challenge for me is to make it look as good - or better - than it did on stage, so the images that go to reviewers underscore the points they're making about the production, in a positive light...
When I got a call recently about a show at the Factory Theatre, and the director described it as 'written by an English slam poet', I didn't exactly know what to expect.
I mean, I've seen the occasional performance poet (Christian Bök at the NZ Festival springs to mind) - but it would be interesting to see how that translated onto the stage, and via the mouths of actors, into characters in a story.
Turns out, there's no question - Wasted is a play, that's clearly written by a poet; and that's fine, actually...
In some ways, this final image was the hardest to choose - probably in part because the work I've done most recently is so fresh in my mind, but also because I think I've been doing a lot of good work in the last year! If I can be allowed to say so myself. (Hey, it's my blog, okay!?)
Having already posted my favourites of 2016 at the start of this year, it shouldn't be a big surprise that my favourite image is one that was on that list - from Handel's Theodora, the Pinchgut Opera production at City Recital Hall in late November...
The Dapto Chaser is one of those shows that will stick with me for years to come.
For me, it's great when I have the opportunity to be involved with a production at several points along the way, from the initial publicity images through rehearsals and onto the stage itself - getting to know the production, as well as the cast and crew, as we get closer to the opening...
Today's image is a funny one - and a little different to most of the others. It's one I'm fond of nonetheless, which is why it made the list of course!
What looks like a random collection of glowing orbs is the out of focus blur of a number of coloured lights, suspended under the awning of the Museum of Contemporary Art during Vivid here in Sydney, in 2014...
This image marks a new beginning in my career to date, as it's the first production photography I did in Australia after relocating to Sydney in December 2012; fortunately for me, it was also a really great production, both in terms of how it looked in the images, and how it played out on stage...!
Belvoir's production of Angels In America is one I've written about before, and one I'm always happy to have another look at; so it's not so surprising that this image is one of my favourites from that year. Really, the hard part was choosing just one moment from the show...
Once in a while, an image comes along that doesn't fit my usual ideals, but still works, and suits the show. This one - of Irish company Pan Pan's production The Rehearsal, Playing The Dane - was a matter of being ready for the unexpected...
This week's image isn't just one of my favourite images, it's one - by virtue of Eleanor's own success - that has been reused & reprinted far more than anything else in my career to date.
Of course, it's impossible to know the actual number of copies of this image; but I've seen estimates that the book sold 560,000 copies (with one copy of the image in the back of each of those); plus, the image appeared in countless media around the globe when she made the long list, then the short list, and then won the Man Booker Prize in 2013 - so I can scarcely guess the number of printed copies of all of those newspapers!
It's always tough to choose a single image from a New Zealand International Arts Festival - after all, I photographed for 24 days straight, usually working 17h days; so there are a few to choose from!
And 2010 was a particularly good year, between visiting companies and New Zealand works; but somehow I come back to Red Leap Theatre's production of The Arrival often, when I'm thinking about that festival. It caught me by surprise, I think - in the same way Giselle did two years earlier, I came into rehearsal not knowing much about the show, and came out a fan of the company...
This one's the polar opposite of that first image in a lot of ways, though; the original was blurry, slightly abstract, a little bit out of control, where this one is a clean, crisp silhouette, and, facing the opposite direction...