Photography News | Issue 32 | absolutephoto.com
1st curtain What’s not to love about the theatre? It’s a completely different world to immerse yourself in. Pro Matt Humphrey stepped backstage to illustrate the other side of the curtain…
professionals can find out about shows, explore backstage content and connect with theatre professionals. Then came the book. “John wanted to produce a book that encapsulated the backstage life of shows on the West End and I was really interested in taking it on. We set up Curtain Call and reached out to people in the industry that we’d worked with. It took a while to get going, but once people sawwhat wewere doing it was a snowball effect. “We wanted the book to be a review of the year, and to tie in with the Olivier Awards. The Society of London Theatre (which produces the Olivier Awards) was keen to support theproject andhelpedoutwithaccess. Theatre works on an annual cycle so it seemed sensible to cover as many productions as we could. “The backstage area is hallowed space, so it is an incredible privilege to be there with my camera, but the key is recognising how incidental I am. Everyone is there to do a job, and there has to be trust and respect between everyone. Technically the
Curtain Call: A Year Backstage in London Theatre showcases the work of Matt Humphrey who was given privileged accesstomorethan50Londontheatre productions. From a young age, Matt loved photographing events and special occasions, andevenstudiedart and photography at school. In 2007 he rekindled his love for photography and left his stable job to pursue a full-time career as a photographer. A stop-gap jobworkingon thebackstage crew at The Old Vic theatre soon saw him shooting the likes of Hamlet , Billy Elliot theMusical and Hangmen . “I would practise shooting in low light, capturing special moments on thestageandbehindthescenes.Icame at it from an alternative perspective, and became fascinated with the art of backstage,”Matt says. Having completed a commissioned year shooting backstage at the Hackney Empire, Matt and actor John Schwab, set up Curtain Call, awebsite dedicated to theatre where fans and
challenges are primarily in lighting – it can be a challenge switching from low available light in the wings, to a well-lit scene on stage,” Matt tells us. “I shoot with high ISOs – which can add grain, but I don’t mind as it adds to the fact that it’s very dark. I scaled down equipment and shoot with just a Leica M-P 240 rangefinder camera and a fast 35mm f/1.4 lens – always on fullymanual settings.” While traditional theatre photographers would capture the play from the audience’s perspective during a dress rehearsal, Matt takes a different approach. “I am shooting from a backstage point of view and during a live performance.” Shootingduringa liveperformance definitely has its pressures. There’s only one chance to get the shots during the action, so Matt does as much prep as possible. “We normally arrive at the warm-up and I stay until the end of the show – there are excellent opportunities as people take their bows, or leave the stage,” he says. “We set the shot list ourselves, and I pick out key moments I think will make interesting shots from the other side of the curtain. I come up with a load of ideas, some of which are impossible, others that end up
making great shots, and some that are lucky gems. Excitement backstage is palpable and infectious – sometimes I have to remindmyself to take photos.” The images taken for the Curtain Call project have gained attention within the theatrical industry. “A lot of the producers have been interested in using our images as they differ from their usual visual assets. Typically they have been used on social media to interact with fans. That said, I have started shooting my style of theatre photography for more formal uses like rehearsal images that end up in theprogrammes, aswell as behind the scenes at theOlivierAwards,” he says. “Going forward, our plan is to try and produce a book every year. We have only just published this one, but already there have been productions approaching us to cover their shows. In terms of how it has changed my photography, I have become more decisive, and my Leica has become an almost organic extension of my eye and how I see. Quite a few people I photographed have expressed a wish to work together so I am hoping to buildmy portrait portfolio, too.” You can find further thoughts from Matt, and plenty more pro insight in the latest issue of Professional Photo .
Above As You Like It (Shakespeare’s Globe). Left Guys and Dolls (Savoy Theatre).
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