ON THE THEATER & PHOTOGRAPHY INTERVIEW WITH DR. JOEL ANDERSON
關於戲劇與攝影 採訪喬爾·安德森博士


ART.ZIP: Are there any specific categories of theatre photography? What are the main functions?

JA: I have mentioned early theatre photography, which is portraiture. There is also the ‘staged’ or photo-call photo, which immobilises, sets up, or even invents a scene from the play. This style allows a great deal of freedom for whoever is making the image (the director or the photographer), and the idea of giving a ‘faithful’ rendition of the play seems less important than creating a ‘dramatic’ image. As with the actor portraits, theatre photography often can be understood as a sub-genre of photo- graphic practices. There are thus examples of theatre photography that embrace the documentarist/reportage modality and indeed its aesthetic. In this mode, theatre photography is often taken ‘live’ (although rarely during an actual public performance), and the photographer behaves like a street photographer, capturing whatever happens, as it happens, seeking to find in the chaotic flow of the performance a ‘decisive moment’ (the term is of course from Cartier-Bresson). There is no dominant style of theatre photography at the moment, as far as I know.

As for the function of theatre photography, it really depends which theatre photography we’re talking about, and the role and function does change a great deal over time. Contemporary theatre photography is concerned either with prophesying a play (so marketing, publicity), or with remembering it (so theatre archives, or documentation, which is often created to support a request for funding from public or private sources; there is also a use within education and research for photo archives). Press photography obviously has a place, too, and theatre reviews are often accompanied by images (usually taken by one of a fairly small circle of professional theatre photographers).

It is worth mentioning performance photography, which is obviously closely linked to theatre photography, although one can identify some differences. There has always been a link between photography and performance art, be it in the 1950s, the 1970s, the 1990s, or in the last decade. And there has always been, alongside this affinity a suggestion of incompatibility: if performance is concerned with unrepeatable events, and with events that are seen by those present, there is clearly a possible contradiction with photography, as a technology of reproduction and mass distribution. Walter Benjamin never (to my knowledge at least) writes about theatre photography, but he seems to place theatre and photography in opposition: theatre is concerned with the hic et nunc, and photography is where cult value gives way to exhibition value.

Around the same time that Jacques Derrida was writing about Archive Fever: A
Freudian Impression, a number of perfor
mance scholars became very interested
in the question of whether, how, and
why performance can be documented.
At that point, one question was about
how a piece of documentation (so, a photograph) might stand in for the perormance itself (this is the idea of fetish-
ism), and this was a political question
about performance’s place in or outside
the sphere of the media. The document
ing of performance also has legal implications, as seen in the case of four artists
whose work had been photographed by
Dona Ann McAdams in the USA in the
early 1990s – the photographs became
potential evidence in a hostile political environment.

Much performance art photography corresponds to the aesthetic of reportage, and images are often black and white, blurry, grainy, or otherwise attesting to their being representations of something that took place. There is, however, another side to performance photography, which we might call photography as performance (the other work being photography of performance). This kind of photography creates photographic artworks, rather than documenting a live performance (although the distinction is actually far from simple). Examples of this might include the work of Cindy Sherman. The striking performance photography of Manuel Vason, who is particularly associated with artists operating in what is called ‘live art’ does not seek to document a live performance, but rather Manuel works with the performer to create an image, it is a collective process(‘collaboration’ is the word the photographer uses). The modality is actually comparable to that used in the 19th Century actor portraits I have described: photographer and sitter work together to create an image…

I think this opposition between capturing images and composing images is key to understanding theatre photography; it is an opposition that predates photography, but is still important today.

Another area that interests me is theatre photography with a precise function within the working process. This is quite rare, but there are, or have been in the past, a few companies that employ a photographer to photograph rehearsals and shows as part of the iterative processes of creation. I have previously written about the work of Sophie Moscoso (‘Theatrical photography, photographic theatre and the still’, in About Performance 2008), who was director Ariane Mnouchkine’s assistant at the Le Théâtre du Soleil, and whose photographs were used to check details, to keep a record of that company’s (long) rehearsal process, and to remind the director and sometimes the actor of previous choices of costume or of gesture). Bertolt Brecht made a great deal of use of photography in his work: he created detailed documents (called ‘modelbooks’) with text and photographs that would allow a show to be restaged with all of the nuance of physical configurations of actors and gesture required in his theatre style.


<<< 1 2 3 4 5 6 >>>