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Theatre Sets: A photography series by Ines Gennuso

Ines Gennuso is an Edinburgh based photographer. Her series “Theatre Sets” caught our eyes some weeks ago and we’d been keen to talk to her ever since. Why take photos of an empty set? The images were clearly compelling, vibrant and possessed a powerful intent. Though to our eyes as Theatre Designers it was strange to see photographic images of a set without actors, it makes us beg the question – can the set alone be considered art?

Fugee, Lyceum Youth Theatre Edinburgh, set designer Xana Maclean and Paul Rodger. Image © Ines Gennuso

Fugee, Lyceum Youth Theatre Edinburgh, set designer Xana Maclean and Paul Rodger. Image © Ines Gennuso

Martin Paling spoke to Ines Gennuso:

What inspired you to photograph solitary stage sets?

I had already been interested in artificially lit spaces for sometime when I went to see the play “ All My Sons” by Arthur Miller. I was very moved by the play and stayed on in the auditorium when the rest of the audience had left. As I watched the stage, empty, with no actors, I felt the stage itself was imbued with drama and I wondered how the stage would look as an image. That’s how the project started.

Your photographs don’t show any actors on the stage, do you think it’s possible that the stage set and it’s lighting can stand alone as a work of art?

I think from a photography point of view, the space of theatre has been far less explored. Photography often focuses on the actors and the action taking place on stage. With my work I was interested in exploring a quieter drama, which is still and silent and yet very expressive.

I did notice one exception, the image with the puppet “Looking for Nessie” by Talking Heads Puppets… did you have an internal dialogue about whether the puppet was a performer or an artifact of the design?

In that case I felt the puppet was part of the booth design. Because nobody was pulling its strings, the puppet seemed to me an integral part of the set.

I think from a photography point of view, the space of theatre has been far less explored. Photography often focuses on the actors and the action taking place on stage. ~ Ines Gennuso

Is there a different approach to be taken when photographing a stage set without performers?

The approach I took to this project was to photograph the sets in a methodical way. I maintained a frontal perspective and a tight composition in all the images so that just the set itself was in view. This approach in photography is called typology. By photographing all the sets in the same way, it was possible to emphasize the peculiarities of each individual set. It also allowed me to play with scale. As the viewer has no other visual reference than the set itself, like actors or parts of the auditorium, it is difficult to tell the precise scale of the set. This made possible to juxtapose images of small sets with larger ones.

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In regards to lighting: is the light shown in your images part of the shows lighting or did you have to request for any changes to be made?

The lights shown in the images were part of the shows lighting. No changes were made on my request and I did not add any light of my own. When the productions had the time, we would go through a few key lights used throughout the show and I would choose one that I thought would photograph best. If time was short, I would be given one set of light to photograph.
The images were taken using long exposures. Through this process it is possible to manipulate light to achieve atmospheric effects. In the “Theatre Sets” series, this process allowed a clearer split between highlights and shadows, emphasizing a sense of the sets and its objects emerging out of darkness.

As designers we welcome the sculptural qualities of light – I wonder what it is you look for in the qualities of artificial light?

What I find fascinating about artificial light is its ability to transform the ordinary into something vivid and dramatic. Artificial light accentuates and alters the appearance of things. Its reverberating colours and deep shadows possess a surreal and atmospheric quality.

Synthetic Nights 2 by Ines Gennuso. Image © Ines Gennuso

Synthetic Nights 2 by Ines Gennuso. Image © Ines Gennuso

I noticed that you also have a collection entitled “Synthetic Nights”, what is it about artificial light that appeals to you?

For the series “Synthetic Nights” I photographed a local park at night using only the available light supplied by public street lighting. I was attracted to photograph flowers, tress and hedges because of their intriguing and ambiguous appearance at night. When they were bathed by artificial light, they became something further removed from reality.

Ines Gennuso

You can see more of Ines’s work at her site www.inesgennuso.co.uk

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