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BLOC Exposed by Stewart McPherson

Updated: Nov 30, 2020

“...what’s it like being a Theatre Photographer” I’m glad you asked...

When I was approached to put together a series of ‘articles’ to illustrate my time as BLOC’s photographer I thought... ”that’ll be easy” and then, when I finally sat down to write instalment #1 I realised there is much more to my journey to where I find myself in 2020 than I thought (apart from out of work...!!!) My association with BLOC started thirty two years ago back in 1988 when I joined as a dancer for Oklahoma and I performed for four years followed by a gap of nine years until I trod the boards again in 2001 for Evita and 2002 for Jesus Christ Superstar. I can honestly say I have always enjoyed my time working with and for BLOC and the productions have always provided visual challenges and successes in equal measure.

I started photographing theatre in general around 1992 mostly because the other photographer around at the time shot whole stage images not close up character shots and made the entire production look a bit like a Lowry painting...!!! Without being conceited, I felt there was a better way and I set out to give it a go - here we are 28 years on and I’m still trying (I’m nothing if not tenacious).

The first production I shot for BLOC was Anything Goes in 1996 and whilst today everybody snaps away and produces some reasonable shots, without sounding too dull, back then it was a very different process. Modern digital technology has made the kit much more flexible to the point where any idiot could use a digital camera (and many do..!!!) - a lifetime ago when I started everything was on film (anyone remember that?) with very limited flexibility - I would ask the lighting designer to give me an average lighting state, take a meter reading on a handheld light meter, base everything I shot on that and... pray. Images often ended up very dark or follow spot would completely white out faces and freezing dance routines was nigh on impossible without blur. Looking back at my old work I’m amazed I kept going. I guess most of the time I got lucky, in Gerry Parker in Fiddler On The Roof 1999 Barnum Company “Come Follow The Band” 1997 Chris Greaves & Julia Kennedy in Barnum 1997 Merion Ashton in Fiddler On The Roof 1999 6 fact the more I practiced the luckier I got!!! and the rest as they say is history.

I’m absolutely sure you would all rather see some evidence rather than my wittering on so throughout this article I have illustrated my ramblings with some archive images from Barnum, Fiddler On The Roof, Anything Goes and the only remaining image from The King & I - a few old familiar faces (some sorely missed). At the last count I think I have shot twenty four productions for BLOC and designed the artwork for a reasonable number of their shows and I still love the thrill of a new challenge.

Photographing in the theatre is like nothing else, as the photographer you have no control over the light and the only way to compose a shot is to move, often at speed, around the theatre to get the best angles, you also have to try where possible to make sure everyone is in at least one image! whilst watching the lighting, trying to read and pre-empt the action on stage to get in the best position, changing camera settings in the dark and not tripping over the numerous cables draped throughout the auditorium during the dress run - it’s easy when you know how - simply know your gear, get in the right place and practice for... 20+ years – ‘simples no’…!?

I’ll try to explain a little more of my techniques and planning in the next instalment but until then if anyone has any questions or wants further info please feel free to email me directly through my website I’ll be happy to help. ‘Til next time…

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