At the Symposium at Falmouth I had the pleasure and good fortune to meet Tim Stubbs Hughes. At his portfolio review with Paul Clements and Sarah Hayes my attention and curiosity was immediately grabbed with his introductory reference to ‘waiting for the dead people to arrive’ and his quote from The Cherry Orchard ‘It’s three degrees outside and the cherry trees are all in blossom’. Tim is a theatre director and it got me thinking about the techniques used in the theatre to captivate, ‘attract and hold the attention and interest of’, an audience.
Tim kindly agreed to an exploratory webinar which Paul Clement joined us to discuss the techniques used in theatre and consider if there are any that can be used within a photography ‘performance’. It was a lively, insightful and enjoyable session.
Tim stated that in theatre the tools available to create effect are lighting, sound, performance, design and text. On text he added it is about positioning, juxtaposition and texture. The essential step in theatre is to get the viewer ‘to come in to your world.’ Overarching all this is a super objective throughout the performance. Tim’s example is one of his favourite plays, The Cherry Orchard, which has the super objective of depression and how to get through it.
Everything in the preceding paragraph is relevant to a photographic performance be it a book, an exhibition or a work of mixed media. Testing my own work against a super objective and understanding how I get my viewer to ‘come in to my world’ are great tests to measure against.
Tim suggested there is usually a beginning middle and end in a theatrical performance. Paul proposed that in photography this does not have to be the case.
Tim talked about ‘Invisible Theatre’ which are live performances that can take place in any public place. The actors act out their play in, for example, a restaurant queue, complete their performance and at the end somehow the audience is made aware they have just seen a play. This form of theatre is often used to raise important social and political issues. Banksy came to mind from the art world.
Applied to photography this idea could be thrusting images of an important issue in to a live audience to make a point. Photographers could turn up with images of environmental damage being done on the planet pasted to the buildings in which the meetings are taking place in Davos each year.
Tim also referred to ‘In-yer-face theatre’ which ‘ is the kind of theatre which grabs the audience by the scruff of the neck and shakes it until it gets the message.’ In yer face. Jo Spence and Nan Goldin come to mind as equivalents in photography.
Tim referred to Robert Lepage’s 887 as a different form of theatre which ‘ is a memory play, and like memory it leaps around in a structure more associative than linear — sometimes quaintly nostalgic, sometimes viscerally angry.’ NYTimesreview . This can be perhaps the photographic equivalent of Paul’s no beginning middle or end.
Finally Tim talked of the use of irony, self assessment, realisation and paradox within dialogue. This is worthy of further exploration as I am giving a lot of thought to the use of words, dialogue, talk over or other forms of verbal attachment for my Final Major Project.
We had a conversation about my own work which remains unresolved between the wider project of personal emotional experiences associated with chronic illness and the specific work in progress around my wife’s assisted suicide for this module. Tim mentioned Don de Lilo’s Love Lies Bleeding. ‘The play is at its best in showing how people impose their own desires on the irrecoverably ill: Lia says of Alex “he wants to die in nature’s time” while Toinette and Sean presume that he wants to be relieved of pain.’ Guardian Review. Paul referred to his own experience of this with his own brother in which relatives made decisions for his brother when he was irrecoverably ill.
This play highlights the importance of tension in a performance to grab attention. Few things are more captivating to human attention than two opposing arguments that are equally balanced. This play is an example with the arguments for and against an intervention in somebody else’s life being equally valid and neither conclusively provable as correct. Each viewer will have their own worldview and seek evidence in the play to support that view. Tension arrises when there is difficulty shooting down the other view without prejudice. See notes on suicide post for further discussion of the issue of assisted suicide.
All human beings seek to identify and understand what they see and experience. Once they have an answer they do no more work to check if there identification is correct. Instead limited effort is put in to confirming the first view is right. This is known as the confirmation bias in human beings. ‘Human beings are prone to believe what they want to believe.’ Psychology Today.
I am struck with how to get the viewer ‘to come in to my world’ for my work and the idea of the super objective. I am also drawn to the idea of creating tension in a work that gives the viewer work to do to resolve it.
Grateful to Tim and Paul for an enlightening and thought provoking conversation. I look forward with interest to the development of Tim’s project.