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I started photographing theater in the late 1980s when I worked for a regional news magazine in North Carolina. Among a handful of beat assignments, theater was always a favorite. Photographing live theater brings the same adrenaline rush that comes with photographing war, sports, or dance. Point of view, subject, action, all is constantly changing before you and the camera. Instinctively, you hold the camera close to your face, all the while maintaining a heightened awareness of your surroundings.
The fact that the action isn’t spontaneous but rehearsed makes no difference if you don’t know what the play is about and I’ve always preferred the spontaneity that comes with not knowing. I love the experience of being taken up by a live theater performance, of losing myself in the unfolding of the story.
Photographing theater is quite different from watching it. For one, I move around a lot when I shoot, which makes me a participant in the play, not just an observer. I follow the action through my camera. I look for frames of action that tell the story while paying attention to light sources that make or break an image. I listen to the actors and sync with their breathing to anticipate my future movements. And I move with the intention of being in the right place at the right time.
Years ago I photographed for several different companies in the area. Today the only one I work with is, not coincidentally, my long-time favorite, Manbites Dog Theater Company, based in Durham, NC.