Photographing the arts: inclusion & exclusion
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...
Metamorphoses is a modern re-telling of Ovid's stories, and staged around a pool; Dino Dimitriadis' production at the Old Fitz added a layer of sexual politics to it that both questioned our assumptions about gender and identity, and made sense of the transmutation of people into trees, gods into mortals, and anything at all into gold at a touch.
Photographing at rehearsal presented a number of challenges; and in some ways, they reflected the production - the question of inclusion or exclusion from the narrative. For a show that was part of the 40th Annual Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, those are extremely relevant issues. Whose visibility is particularly important, at this point in the story?
And of course, for me that comes through in pragmatic ways as well. How do I work with the scaffolding set so it's not blocking either my view of the actor, or their light? How do I make interesting images in light that is often stark, and high contrast? And with the cast of ten on stage the entire time, how do I make compelling, clear images?
The solutions to the first two turned out to be related - the answer was to be constantly changing my own point of view, finding new angles as each scene unfolded, and then, at certain moments, waiting - for the right tilt of an actor's head, so the light would just catch their eye.
Interestingly, the solution for compelling images in this case was also to change my perspective, and switch to photographing vertical images. I'm surprised how many of my favourites from this production were portrait orientation, given that the set was quite wide on stage.
That's the thing about photography - I've talked before about how I approach photographing a show like a cinematographer; and looking back over a lot of my work, I do tend to photograph in landscape orientation on stage, a lot. The context of the set can be helpful to an image; but also it helps maintain the illusion if you don't look up too much, and see lighting rig.
But every show is different; and what's supportive in one image, or one production, can be distracting in another.
So here, what I found myself doing was editing the scene for the eventual viewer - deciding to exclude parts of the set, or performers who weren't active participants in scenes - in order to distil what was happening into a simple, clear image.
There were still a mix of wide, mid, and close-up images to work with, some of which would crop easily for Instagram, others would work well as horizontal banners; but they were each, in their own way, intriguing...
I've talked before about how photographing theatre is like dancing with the cast; and sometimes, it's a dance with the set, lighting, and costume designers, too.
Knowing where to be at any given moment, how to create depth or leading lines in an image of a three dimensional stage, and being able to make those decisions on the fly during your one chance to capture a production takes practice, experience, instinct - and sometimes, a bit of luck.
Being involved from an early part of the process, and having discussions about Dino's approach to the show over that time, meant I had a strong sense of what I was aiming for by the dress rehearsal.
Even so, the production amazed me. I knew it would be ambitious, I knew it would be physical; but in the end, even while photographing the rehearsal, I was struck by both the beauty of the design (which had moments that reminded me of a Peter Greenaway film), and the emotional impact of the performances.
I'm often working too hard to really be listening during rehearsals like this; but there were moments when I almost had to stop photographing, and just be there with the performers. Not working, just listening.
It's an outstanding, gorgeous production; and it finishes on Saturday 10 March. Go, if you can.
Written & Originally Directed by: Mary Zimmerman
Directed by: Dino Dimitriadis
Produced by: Apocalypse Theatre Company in association with Red Line Productions
Assistant Director: Thomas Murphy
Design: Jonathan Hindmarsh
Lighting Design: Benjamin Brockman
Sound Design: Ben Pierpoint
Production Management: Shell McKenzie
Stage Management: Rebecca Waters & Martin Quinn