Last week I photographed the University of Bristol’s Gradfest – a festival over 3 days produced by the graduating students of the Drama department to showcase their Independent Studies. These are projects that make up about a quarter of their final year mark and allow them to utilise and display the range of skills they’ve learnt throughout their degree.
Bristol’s Drama degree concentrates heavily on the history and technical skills surrounding the production of theatre, film and television – as well as performance skills – which leads to a huge diversity in the Independent Studies. Some are live performances, where students might focus on aspects of writing, direction, production or design, some produce short films, both live action and animated, and others create installations examining a specific theme in detail. This year there were 4 short films, 11 staged productions and a single installation. If you’re interested in this year’s productions you can find more information on the Gradfest 2013 website.
In the past I’ve produced stills for some of the short films made within the department – but this year I just took photos for the installation and 8 of the staged performances. The initial plan was to take photos of all the productions over a 3 hour period – giving me about 10 minutes on each with 5-10 to pack up my kit and dash to the next. The performances were each 20 minutes long and the vast majority I knew nothing about until I arrived for their slot. So for most I didn’t even have anything planned and there wasn’t time to just do a run through and shoot as they went – so it was a case of coming up with ideas within the first couple of minutes then jumping straight in. Frantic doesn’t even come close! But it was a great opportunity to see what I could produce in a very small amount of time and with so many productions it meant I could play with several different approaches! Fortunately many of the students also already had a vague idea of what they wanted from the images so I usually had a starting point to spring from.
In the end I did spend slightly longer on three of the projects. A couple of the stage performances were heavily set-reliant but didn’t get access to their spaces until days 2 and 3 of the festival (I shot the rest the day before the festival started) so I ended up coming back and photographing them once they’d got into the space. I also ended up going back to the installation at the end of the first 3 hours shoot so that I could do more. There was so much detail for me to play with I thought it worth the extra time.
Anyway, enough rambling – onto the photos!
– by Jess Reid and Fleur Wheatley
The first was Looking Backwards – a promenade performance with a cast of 3 giving verbatim (taken directly from real life interviews) accounts of childhood fears. For this production the images I made were staged moments from the actual performance tweaked to give a bit more of a portrait feel.
As the shoots were all so quick I stuck to using the ambient lighting rather than doing anything myself with strobes. The shot above was in such a dark corner that we actually ended up using a cheap torch, used as a prop in the performance, as a face light!
– by Ryan Lech
Seedbed Reenacted is the first production I’ve ever had to produce images for where the cast (in this case the sole performer was Ryan himself) are completely unseen for the entire performance! Ryan spent the whole time hidden from view under the audience’s seating – not an easy thing to photograph! But we quickly came up with the idea of taking a couple of promo style shots of him staring out from underneath the rostra – and these were the results.
No Song, No Supper
– by Debz Machin
We didn’t have access to the set for this production but the costumes were so strong it wasn’t really a problem. We found a rehearsal room with plenty of natural light and shot this series of character portraits against a convenient white wall.
A Recurring Letter
– by Heather Gibson and Rachel Pryce
The aim of this play was to recreate the 17th century painting Girl reading a Letter at an Open Window by Jan Vermeer. The production utilised a static video camera pointed at the stage and hooked up to a large display to show the final image to the audience live – I simply recreated that image as a still. You can see the original and the recreation side by side above for comparison. While the vertical scale was probably somewhat out in the reproduction I thought they did impressively well to get the entire thing so close.
– by Ragevan Vasan
For his monologue Our Land, about his mother’s travels between Sri Lanka and London, Ragevan simply wanted a series of clean and punchy B+W rehearsal images. He ran a few short segments which he felt had the most interesting action and expressions while I shot throughout.
– by Ollie Jones-Evans
Ollie plays 3 separate characters in his monologue Character Assassination and he differentiated between each by rapidly removing layers of clothing on stage. We decided he should run a few segments of the play that included each character and a couple of changes while I shot. I caught a few nice moments and expressions and the resulting photos are solid – but this is the one production I wish I had done something different as I don’t feel they really stand out and do Ollie justice. In hindsight I suspect that this is where some properly lit portraits that really emphasised the different characters could have made all the difference.
What Are You to Me?
– By Steph Jack, Jenny Davies and Sophia Pervilhac
Steph, Jenny and Sophia’s installation examined the idea of memories and how we document, archive and link them together. The whole thing was spread out over 2 rooms and divided into different sections – all of which were interactive in some way. Some were designed to be touched, objects you could pick up and play with, others were visual or auditory and finally there were things to be smelt and tasted. If you’re interested you can see more details on the installation’s website.
If That’s All There Is My Friends, Then Let’s Keep Dancing
– by Ruth Fussell and Lucy Cranshaw
This performance and the next are the pair I went back to photograph in full once they had access to their space. The first was a study of dance styles and social climate during the time of boom to bust in early 20th century America.
The set itself was minimal but there was a lot of interaction with the images projected onto a screen on stage – the cast using them both as a backdrop and also to create silhouettes to cut between scenes. My aim was to produce photos that showed the range and variety that combination allowed despite the apparent simplicity of the set.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Children
– by Stephanie Glide and Harriet Long
The final performance I shot was a reinterpretation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream aimed at children aged 8+. As a result the set and props were by far the most complex and the action was extremely fast paced! Tricky in low light and hard to keep up with – but great for bold, action-filled production images.
You can see the rest of my photos in this Flickr set.