Memphis Through the Mirror - Beginnings



MEMPHIS through the Mirror - Origins


It began with an email on May 7th from an Associate Producer and director of all things social media for our tour, Carolyn.  After the curtain call photos taken of MEMPHIS on stage at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, she contacted me, asking if I had any photo projects that I wanted to undertake…  Through out the three days of emails back and forth she mentioned interest in some type of ‘classic’ dressing room portraits of some of the cast for use online.  After hearing that, I was honestly pretty bored with the idea.  I knew we were headed to Dallas, TX and having been in the theatre before, I knew the dressing rooms left a lot to be desired.  Unfortunately that is the nature of touring, some weeks you end up in a gorgeous theater with beautiful dressing rooms that have a piano in the corner, and in others you get four white walls a mirror and a chair.  Dallas is definitely the latter.  After thinking about these portraits in a white box for a few days, and absolutely hating the idea, I emailed Carolyn back with an idea of my own.  I had found my vision for this project.  I could see the photographs in my head, and from then on I was writing like a mad man.  Spewing ideas into words, and words onto my computer into a project proposal for her review.

My initial proposal was three pages long.  On the first page I included an outline of the project, intended distribution and usage, shot list and preliminary budget, while pages two and three were tentative schedules and call sheets.  Having sent the email late Sunday, I received an email response during our wait on a very delayed flight out of Lambert Field in St. Louis, saying the project got the green light.  I promptly purchased some internet and started to work. In a matter of 6 days I would go from project proposal to realizing this idea that I had just conceived, and I had a lot to do to get there.  This image in my head was more vivid than I think I have ever pictured a single image.  The original proposed idea was a “classic dressing room portrait”… you know one of those iconic images where the ‘show person’ is sitting in front of their makeup mirror with a look of wonder and a sense of longing in their face… like they were gazing into the camera in a way that no one else ever could.  (no big deal, the first ideas of the imagery is just starting off with iconic, classic, wonder, longing and beauty as inspiration…  no pressure, really it’s no big deal at all.)

I started where I feel most comfortable nowadays… that place that I turn to for most answers… my computer and the internet.  Searching for images online and looking for these iconic portraits that I know I have seen before, and failing miserably at finding them.  I realize that for some reason I have compiled these classic images into one unobtainable photo in my head.  The classic portrait of actor gazing into their mirror has been formed from dozens of images that I have come across through out my career, not only in theatre texts way back in University, but in photo books and magazines throughout my photographic life.  It is these reflected images that I know I have seen before but cannot remember individually.  Absolutely no specifics come to mind, but I know I have seen them… tens of them, if not twelves of them before.  It is then that I realize that these images to me have all blended together.  They have been composited in my head into a stereotypical image that I have created of the actor in a dressing room, staring into the mirror.  I did not want to create images that would blend in again.  I wanted to create more.

I am currently reading "within the frame" by David duChemin, a book about vision, about finding your vision, nurturing it, and expressing it in a photograph.  I won’t lie when I say that I happened across the perfect book at just the right time to inspire me to look at this portrait in a different way.  The title of the book is replicated as the title of chapter two of the book, and it discussed quite a bit about what the photographer does as a creative to find and execute his vision.  I found my vision for this photograph of a theatre dressing room while reading the oddest of sections “The Illusion of the Exotic” in which the author states that, “…if you want to communicate something more, if you want to bring something new to the table, and put your own thoughts, feelings, and personality into the image, then you need to photograph your subject matter as though you’ve seen it a thousand times and then suddenly see it in a new way. ”  Taking a section of the book related to his experiences photographing in exotic locations and interpreting it into my ‘exotic’ local of the theatre, and even more exotic than just the theatre, but the actor’s dressing room.

Throughout chapter two, and seemingly throughout the book in general (truth be told, I have only made it to chapter 2 thus far), there are outtakes in the margins of the pages.  They read as strikingly accurate timeline in my conception of this project.

“There is only the frame.  That is our craft.  Painting with light, in slivers of time, within the frame of our image.”

“Knowing what you love to photograph,  and what you do not, is the first step in the recognition and refinement of your vision”

“You are responsible for every element within the frame.”

“Become aware of the frame and the way the elements within it interact.”

“Exclusion is a powerful tool for increasing the impact of your image.”

It was while reading this book that I took some of the outtakes to heart and applied them to my project, and thus MEMPHIS through the MIRROR was born: take the classic dressing room portrait, concentrate on the frame, paint with light and take a sliver of time, take control of every element, become aware of the frame and how the elements react within it, and exclude everything un necessary to punch up the visual of the image.  I had my vision, largely directed by random suggestions and text from a text about finding photographic vision.  It’s obvious when I look at it now.  Taking the author’s words out of context and probably more literal than intended, all of these suggestions lead to the idea to photograph through the mirror.  Something new.  Something different… a basis for a dressing room portrait that will not blend in.


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