Manbites Dog Theater, in Durham, NC, has been producing cutting-edge theater since 1987. The company has consistently taken on sensitive and often controversial topics while producing some of the best theater I’ve ever seen. I’ve had the honor and pleasure of being involved with my cameras since their first production in 1987, photographing publicity and dress rehearsals along the way.
The artistic director is Jeff Storer and the company manager is Ed Hunt. They’re great to work with and I’ve enjoyed their friendship over the past 25+ years. When MDT first began production we talked about trying to change the paradigm for theater photography intended for print media. At that grand scheme, we failed. The same old canned shots can be seen incorporated into nearly all newspaper and magazine theater reviews. But along the way, I thought a lot about story telling with images.
We had wanted to come up with photographs that represented not just a scene from the play but the play itself. I studied how photographers in the past had faced similar issues. I took my cues from the early years of photography – O.G. Rejlander, H.P. Robinson, and others who pioneered “combination printing”– that is, overlaying several negatives onto the same print in order to create a fabricated single image. My research on early photographers paid double dividends in that it was during that time of storytelling research that I first learned about alternative photographic printing methods, and in particular, gum bichromate photography.
Until a few years ago, I never considered using anything but black and white film to photograph theater. But the company was finding that black and white photos sent to the press were not getting the kind of play they used to get. So 20 years on, in 2007, I began using digital equipment and posting color images.
2012 was the company’s 25th season. In celebration, we published a book of photography entitled Unleashed: 25 Years of Manbites Dog Theater.