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  • Writer's pictureInfinite Blue Designs

Drawing with Light

The word Photography literally means ‘drawing with light’ and never more so do I feel this is the case than when I am working on a photoshoot situated on a stage.

Last Saturday, I was sitting in the audience at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, waiting to see the performance of two dance pieces I had photographed earlier that afternoon. Two BA student works devised in collaboration with a professional choreographer - Greater Than Themselves by Jack Webb and Time Language by Kayla Collymore. The sold-out audience was filled with excited family members, friends and college staff, all eagerly awaiting what they were about to see - would it be good, bad, amazing, awful or worse still, just so so? A couple of the college tutors were having this very conversation when one piped up, “Ask Chris, she’s seen it...” To which I replied, with a half-giggle, “I don’t know!”

And that’s the truth. I really didn’t, even though I had spent a couple of hours previously photographing the dress rehearsal.

actors and dancers on stage during a dance performance
Time Language

The ‘fine art’ of shooting a production

I’m sure everyones working methods vary, but for me, when I am photographing (especially a theatrical performance), my concentration is on MY artform and not the one in front of me. I am constantly looking for different shapes, lines and forms, waiting on the moment the light hits the performers at just the right angle, looking for that dramatic composition or key movement that will create a compelling photograph. For me, it feels exactly like it does when I am drawing or painting, only on this occasion, instead of brush and canvas, I’m using my camera to create the artwork.

It can be fast and furious photographing a live performance, especially if you are going in blind and haven’t seen the work at any other stage of its development - everything is new, you’re not sure when the key moments will arrive and you are constantly looking, observing and clicking the shutter when something in front of you feels compelling or interesting. I’ll be honest - you also usually have that little doubting voice in the back of your head whispering, Did you miss it?” - whatever it might be? There’s definitely a buzz about the whole experience, the adrenaline is flowing and the creative process is in full swing - so yes, you are ‘seeing’ the performance, but you are markedly ‘seeing’ it through a different lens (pun very much intended!!!). However, could I give you a critique of the performances or tell you what the story is about? Nope! Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention.

Having said all of that, I am aware that this is not always the case. If I am photographing a theatre production, I have usually already read the script and been to at least one rehearsal, so I have some idea of what I am getting into. There are other times like this one where I am hired to turn up at the dress rehearsal and do 'my thing'. I like to think I do it well and feel like I have a natural instinct about what works and what doesn’t - it’s just there. I often wonder whether this is something inherent or something that can be taught. That, however, is a discussion for another time.

Greater Than Themselves

I think what I love most about photographing a dance production such as this is that, despite the 'stepping into the unknown', you are also given a certain amount of freedom: the lighting has already been created by the tech team, the poses are already in place from the choreographer (so, many of the usual elements you would have put in place as a photographer have already been done by someone else) - you just need to tell the story in a visually exciting way. That, for the most part, is done through the choices you make in the editing process. Which images do you choose that will allow someone who has not seen the production understand something about the work? Have you caught the essence of the piece?

How you 'saw' and 'felt' the work is now presented to the world as a visual documentation of what is in fact someone else’s vision. Heady stuff, but also creatively liberating.

Greater Than Themselves and Time Language were devised, created and produced in partnership between Dancebase and Edinburgh College BA (Hons) Dance and Drama students and performed on 13 January 2024 at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh.

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