Photographing the arts: what makes a great production image?
The work I've been doing recently with Apocalypse Theatre and Pinchgut Opera got me thinking about what I try to achieve in production stills photography; so I thought I'd have a look at a show that epitomises my favourite kind of images from this sort of work - New Theatre of Riga's production, The Sound Of Silence, which I photographed for the New Zealand International Arts Festival in 2010.
Let me start by saying a couple of things - I really, really liked this show. It's a tough one to explain, being 3h long and without words, just the music of Simon & Garfunkel; but it was charming, funny, touching, and beautifully done.
So much so, that when I had a chance to see another Alvis Hermanis show in Montreal a few months later, I went out of my way to get there - much to the surprise of their touring manager who I ran into in the lobby! 'But, don't you live in New Zealand? And you came here, to see...us?' (She was very confused, but flattered!)
I also only had one opportunity to photograph this: during a performance, with an audience in attendance. So of course, that meant using my Jacobsen Sound Blimp once again - but also, being seated off to the side of the stage, out of sight of the paying audience. (I was able to change sides at interval, for variety.) It also meant I could only use one lens, and the only control I would have during the show would be zoom, focus, and shoot.
Less than ideal, but better than having no chance to be there at all!
In this case, it worked out well - the set was long and wide, with walls at both ends, so I was able to photograph along it rather than into the wings of the theatre. And, as a non-verbal show, there were plenty of highly visual moments in the piece - as you'll see in the slideshow below.
And that's what I like about the stills I was able to capture that night: they show you something about the show, without giving the story away. I think the best production stills do that - they pique your interest without telling you too much; they make you want to find out the context behind the instant you're seeing.
I don't think I captured a single image from this show - and believe me, there are at least 50 more I could have chosen - that wouldn't work to promote it. They all give you a taste, a sense of the tone of the production, but leave you wanting to know more. And if (like me) you've seen the show, they make you want to go back and experience it again!
I'll finish with a sequence of images from Act 2 - again, even as a series of images, I think they leave you with more questions than they answer.
And isn't that what the best production images do, really - create that desire to see more, and to understand?