Photographing the arts: testing & transition

 An obsessive Paula Abdul fan, June, auditions for American Idol in an attempt to impress her hero. A young girl named Sam enters a relationship with her mechanic, Anthony, and cultivates a dangerous obsession with brutally confronting his wife, Carol. Carol, meanwhile, has reoccurring dreams in which a ghostly JonBenét Ramsey visits her, prophesying about the future.

Equally disturbing and humorous, Home Invasion explores celebrity infatuation and our culture's obsession with the relentless mediatisation of violent acts, weaving together three incidents from real life.

At the Old 505 Theatre in Newtown, from 21 March – 7 April 2018.

Direction & lighting design by ALEXANDER BERLAGE
Set design by JEREMY ALLEN
Costume design by ELLEN STANISTREET
Dramaturgy by DANIELLE MAAS

Photos by Robert Catto, on Friday, 23 February 2018. Please credit & tag the photographer when images are used - @robertcatto on Instagram & Twitter, @robertcattophotographer on Facebook.

Chloe Bayliss in Home Invasion

Publicity image, taken with the Fuji X-T2 and the 35mm f/1.4 lens

Chloe Bayliss in Home Invasion (poster version), taken with the Fuji X-T2 and the 35mm f/1.4 lens

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 about his next project.

As it turned out, it couldn't have come at a better time - I'd picked up a Fuji X-T2 in November for a trip to Japan, but also with an eye towards possibly changing camera systems completely; so I was looking for opportunities to test it out, see if I could really use this tiny marvel of a camera in the sort of situations I find myself in quite a lot.

This show would wind up covering a lot of bases, in that sense - it started with a studio shoot for the poster & publicity, went from there to a rehearsal room, and on to the production stills at the dress rehearsal.

The first shoot went perfectly; the X-T2 & the 35mm f/1.4 was quick to focus, sharp, detailed, accurate - everything I'd come to expect from a Canon 5DMk III / 50mm f/1.2 combination over the years; and, if anything, the colours were just naturally better.

Right about that same time, Fuji unveiled a new model - the X-H1 - and I got my hands on one of the first bodies in Australia, just in time for rehearsals...

Wow. If the X-T2 was compact & confident, this new body was a revelation. I'd popped into the store just to take a look at one, not really expecting it to appeal (I thought most of the features were aimed at video rather than photography), but once it was in my hand, there was very little doubt that I'd be taking it home.

For me, the things that tipped the scales are:

  • feel - while the X-Pro 1 & X-T2 felt like vintage cameras (the kind I'd started using when my dad gave me his Canon FTb at university), this felt like a proper, modern, working camera. Or, at very least, a jump forward to the Canon T-90 I replaced that FT-b with a few years later - or the EOS-3 I replaced THAT with in 2002. It still shares a film camera's sensibilities in a lot of ways (aperture rings on the lenses, shutter speed & ISO dials on top), but it brings them forward with a much more sensitive shutter button, a solid battery grip that doubles as a dual-battery charger, and a slight edge in overall speed of operation.

  • sound - getting rid of the mirror made the X-Pro 1 and X-T2 quieter generally than larger dSLR bodies, but this new shutter on the X-H1 is ghostly quiet. (Well, in landscape mode it is, anyway - in portrait orientation it's still pretty good, but not quite as quiet.)

  • stabilisation - the X-H1 brings in-body image stabilisation to the Fuji system, which I'd never had with Canon; but working in low light like I do, it really does mean I can have a wider range of depths of field available to me without blur from my own tiny movements. I'd recently done a shoot where I was handholding a 16mm lens at ~1/5th of a second, and then compositing bracketed exposures, and I'd had to take dozens of images in the hopes of finding a few that were sharp; with this camera, that would have been much, much simpler.

I didn't expect to like it, but I really, really did. And when I put it to the test (with a bag of Canon gear ready, as a backup), it completely delivered. So, I took it to the dress rehearsal...

Cast, crew & author on stage at the Old 505 Theatre

...and again, it totally lived up to some fairly demanding expectations. Focus was on - maybe not absolutely 100% of the time, but at least as often as I'd have expected with my 5D - and, the Fuji handled Alex's love of saturated colour admirably, which is often an issue under LED lighting on stage. (There's one image from the Canon in there, but that's just because I didn't have as wide a lens for the Fuji as I needed - yet!)

So, I'm calling it a winner - much like the show, in fact!

Home Invasion, as the title suggests, is a bit on the dark side; I have a hard time defining it in pure comedy/tragedy terms, as it has certainly elements of both to it - and I also don't want to give away too much.

The story needs to take you on its own journey through the obsessive world of "reality" television; but it was an engrossing read when I first got the script, and this cast & production team give it the room it needs to be itself, finding both the ugliness of the industry, and the beauty of some of the people who wind up caught in its whirlpool.

Jason Blake from Audrey Journal commented that Alex Berlage "is very quickly establishing himself as an emerging director to watch;" and he's not wrong. Alex was a great lighting designer, and he's consistently using that technical background to great effect - but Home Invasion shows he's got a lovely sense of how to weave together performances to create something dramatic, gentle, and affecting.

In some ways, this is worlds apart from There Will Be A Climax; but actually, all the signs were there. He really understands what it takes to make great theatre.

Home Invasion continues at the Old 505 Theatre until Saturday 7 April 2018.

Direction & lighting design by ALEXANDER BERLAGE
Set design by JEREMY ALLEN
Costume design by ELLEN STANISTREET

Keep an eye on this page for more updates to my series on photographing the arts, or to catch up on previous instalments - and follow me on Twitter or Facebook to hear about them immediately!