Academic journal article About Performance

A Duet between Performer and Photographer

Academic journal article About Performance

A Duet between Performer and Photographer

Article excerpt

A theatre photographer normally takes scores, even hundreds, of shots of a production, often clustered around key moments of visual excitement, but the theatre company commissioning the shoot is usually looking for a very small number of striking images that can be used to publicise the show, decorate the foyer or illustrate the programme. While the photographer supplies contact sheets (or, since the digital revolution, a disk) containing several hundred images, what gets published and circulated is more often than not a single compelling image that seems to director and publicist to encapsulate the essence of the show. Over the course of a professional career spanning some thirty years, devoted for the most part to the difficult art of performance photography, Heidrun Löhr has become highly skilled in capturing such moments and translating them into exquisite images. For this photo-essay, however, she has chosen sequences made up of several related shots rather than single images. The reason for this choice is, in part, that sequences are very rarely published and she wanted to take the opportunity offered by the photo-essay to bring to the attention of a wider audience the power of the photographic sequence. Totally different from film, it is nevertheless in the sequence that still photography comes closest to capturing the development of an action in space and time, at the same time focusing with even greater intensity than in the single image on the expressivity of the performer's body. It constitutes an evocative trace of the absent performance and is, thus, potentially of great value to theatre historians and performance analysts.

A sequence of images is not like a series of freeze frames extracted from a film or video recording, breaking down the content of a single moment in detail not accessible to the human eye, but on the contrary, it presents a number of related moments (in Heidrun's phrase, 'eine Reibe pon Momentenf literally a Tow of moments'), lifting each one out of the flux of the real time movement, holding it, making it visible. She also used the analogy of a string of beads and I wondered whether the linearity of these two images might derive from the photographic practice of hanging photographs to dry after they are removed from the tray of fixative, that is whether she first becomes aware of the sequences as the images hang next to one another in a row. She told me, however, that she never used to hang her photographs to dry but placed diem on sheets of newspaper spread over the flat surfaces in her studio and that her perception of sequences emerges when she first examines the proof sheets. Photographers traditionally cut the developed film into strips of 6 images so the proof sheets consist of rows of six images and, even now, when the digitally produced images are viewed on a computer screen, Heidrun groups them for convenience in rows of six across the screen. She told me that she loves this phase of the work, when she first looks at what she has captured and what sort of images she has created, and it is here that she first glimpses how certain groups of images seem, in her words, to 'reach out to each other', how the shapes and dominant lines relate from one image to the next. In the next phase of the work, when she has enlarged and printed a selection of these images, she puts them up on the wall of her studio and looks at them from a distance and as they relate to each other. It is this physical juxtaposition that constitutes the basis for the sequence, each image speaking to the others in the series, revealing the development of a dramatic moment and the passage of time and movement within a space, and in so doing, foregrounding the bodily presence of the performer.

It is significant that the construction of a sequence derives from the photographic process rather than from the theatrical reality that preceded it. Just as the selection of die striking single image is determined by photographic and pictorial criteria, so here too, the sequence is constituted by relations at the level of image composition and does not involve reference back to the dramatic narrative or theatrical action. …

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