<![CDATA[Photographer Roger P. Watts - Blog]]>Mon, 16 Apr 2018 09:54:19 -0700Weebly<![CDATA[Rehearsals of "Red Herring"...]]>Thu, 29 Jun 2017 00:54:21 GMThttp://rogerpwatts.com/blog/rehearsals-of-red-herringWork continues on the "Beyond the Arena" photo documentary project of rehearsals for plays at the Theatre in the Round.

The most recent entries are under the Theater Stills tab and the "Beyond the Arena" section where the best of the rehearsal work is posted. These actors are remarkable. This is a fun play that is both a serious look at life inside the Boston police department, but also a humorous look at political subjects that were popular in the early 1950s throughout the country.

The director, Lynn Musgrave, is getting the best of the actors. She has crafted a series of scenes that highlights the very best of the players. It is an ensemble cast, but you can't help but like the performances of some of the actors not part of the basic dramatic action. These characters are lively, work together very well, and tie all the pieces together in multiple roles that they have to play.

The documentary is going well. If the kind of photographs that I am getting with Red Herring can be continued with a few more plays, I will then have a body of work that can stand the judgment of art juries and the general public. The current plan is to have an exhibit of the best work at the Theatre in the Round lobby, then try to interest other venues in showing it.

<![CDATA[The Work Continues...]]>Fri, 13 Jan 2017 22:04:22 GMThttp://rogerpwatts.com/blog/the-work-continuesIt's been a while since the last blog entry, but the work continues. I have been busy photographing plays for the "Beyond the Arena" documentary project. The last set of pictures is of A View From the Bridge which looks to be a very good production... talented crew that is cast perfectly for the roles from top to bottom. The photographs were good.  So it continues to be fun.

Next on tap is Deathtrap and I am shooting the PR shot as well as the backstage work and the production photos.

More will be revealed!

<![CDATA[Romeo & Juliet...]]>Sun, 23 Oct 2016 17:22:31 GMThttp://rogerpwatts.com/blog/rpmeo-juliet"What's in a name?"
"Wherefore art thou, Romeo?"
"A plague on both your houses!"...
These are just a few of the dozen or so famous lines from what is arguably the most famous of Shakespeare's plays (a tough thing to judge when you think of the 37 plays in his coda). The cast from the artfully directed (by Kari Steinbach) production did a yeoman(woman)'s job with this "modern" day plot of the love-found/love-lost play. Some people don't like it when Shakespeare is modernized - the iambic pentameter is almost too much to take when the actors are running around in LL Bean jeans and Birkenstock sandals. But this performance is convincing to tell the story of two families, who might just be living across town from one another in middle America, who use the love of two teenagers to argue and fight, love and hate one another over the most shallow of things - a family name. But, there are deeper themes as well. The status of the family, the power of vengeance for past wrongs, the feckless attempts of parents to control their children, the futility of hate trying to triumph over love (or, does it actually do that at the twist of the end?!), and the great loss to loved ones of the promise of youth, are all at stake. This cast and crew did a great job with all of that. Bravo! 

<![CDATA[Antony & Cleopatra rehearsal...]]>Tue, 27 Sep 2016 14:35:01 GMThttp://rogerpwatts.com/blog/antony-cleopatra-rehearsalI went a bit off the reservation (away from Theater in the Round), and photographed the semi-dress rehearsal of the Antony & Cleopatra play that a friend of mine is in. This cast and crew is working with the producer, Urban Landreman, who is the kingpin behind the Lex-Ham Community Theater in St. Paul.

Theater is so strong in the Twin Cities that a neighborhood arts council has funded its own theater company since 1995. Urban has offered dozens of them over the years. This production is held at the Wellstone Center Auditorium, a truly large and accommodating  space with a proscinium stage in West St. Paul.

These actors work hard on their roles. Some of them are performing for the first time and their jitters are noticeable... they so much want to do a good job that some can be seen pacing the hallways backstage repeating their one or two lines over and over again. Others have taken to a fastidious process of dressing themselves in costumes where they are very picky about their appearance...frankly, behaving the way all actors do.

The photographs show an amalgam of scenes in which actors are sometimes wearing no costumes while others are dressed in a hodgepodge of costume/street clothes that makes for some bizarre images. But, their expressions and gestures are as if we are in the actual performance and it is pleasing to work again with people who can carve out such wonderful roles in interesting ways. RPW

<![CDATA[Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde...]]>Tue, 13 Sep 2016 13:56:32 GMThttp://rogerpwatts.com/blog/dr-jekyll-mr-hydePicture
This classic Robert Louis Stevenson play gets a twist in the riff adaptation by local playwright Jeffrey Hatcher that presents an extraordinary interpretation that audiences love. Of course, there's the underlying premise: A doctor, intrigued by the ideas of the chemical transformation of personality (Dr. Jekyll), gets caught up in the murderous adventures of a monster (Mr. Hyde) that springs from his own breast. There are some marvelous presentations of the various personalities that emerge and how they interplay with the sometimes-sane/sometimes-insane doctor. In the end, the transformation seems less of one as the doctor who was the prime mover of it all succumbs to his own evil desires and behaviors that he can no longer hide (pun intended). The cast is amazing. Everyone follows the expert direction from George Roesler, a veteran at the Theater in the Round, and they are rewarded with for their faithfulness with a tight and moving experience.

I think the quality of this shoot reflects the fact that I've now done many of these production photos of plays and I can put together, is a couple of dozen shots, the essence of the characters and the plot. I'm proud of that. It is very journalistic in style, if you can say that about set up photos by actors, and the nature of the communication is as authentic as if one was presenting a story line to the viewer. So, the work still satisfies me and pleases the actors and crew.
It's also great working with these actors, directors, and crew members. They put a great deal of work into their roles. There are weeks of preparation and rehearsals. The crew does an incredible job presenting a stage that is always expertly painted and arranged and reflects the deep meaning of the production. I am also proud to be associated with people who are so professional and talented.

<![CDATA[Street Photography Redux...]]>Fri, 02 Sep 2016 01:41:48 GMThttp://rogerpwatts.com/blog/street-photography-reduxWhen every photographer starts getting serious about the art form, the first thing they usually do is take a selfie...what used to be called a self-portrait. Then, what they always rush to do next is take pictures of people on the street. So, street photography is like Photography 101 for most of us.

The genre started with my friend Homer Page and I write about that on the Street Photography drop down window here. What followed him was a flood of photographers who took to the streets to record life in the raw. The most famous of these people, Winogrand, Friedlander, Doisneau, Cartier-Bresson, and Riboud (who died this past week), made it look easy. Their photos show people who know they are being photographed as well as those surreptitious shots of people who are oblivious to it all. 

It may look easy...but it's far from it. I have always had trepidation when photographing people on the street. I dread the day when someone comes at me because I took their photo and demand I throw the camera away and threaten to sue me (or worse) if I ever use it. Of course, most people don't care. But, then again, most people have private lives even when in public and they work hard to protect that. So, it has never been easy for me.

The photos I made today at the MN State Fair are acceptable...at least about three of them are. I think they say something beyond just the image itself. But, I will need to press this work to get anything really good...as good as Page's work. The new Leica helps...the now famous "M Monochrom" (spelled correctly) is a magnificent tool. It records the finest detail with the best resolution with ease and speed. And, it's just about as unobtrusive as you can get.

So, I'm hoping for more good work. 
<![CDATA[Jeeves Intervenes...]]>Mon, 25 Jul 2016 13:54:52 GMThttp://rogerpwatts.com/blog/jeeves-intervenesThere are now documentary photos posted of the backstage process actors and directors go through to produce the Jeeves Intervenes play at Theater in the Round. 

These actors are extraordinary and, while I have tended to say this about every production at the Theater in the Round, it is never more true that for this performance of Jeeves. The actors do a great job with British comedy roles that are not easy to pull off for American audiences. Their accents, costuming, set design, and interactions lead to a very lively and funny presentation for everyone.

In the play, high society playboy Bertie Wooster and his school chum, Eustace, hatch a plan to save Bertie from an unwanted marriage and Eustace from an undesirable job as a respected businessman. Will the ever-faithful manservant Jeeves be able to rescue these bumbling fools from themselves?

As I said, the TRP cast again does a splendid job with this farce-like play that concentrates heavily on emotional expressions (to the extent that English people can express emotions at all) and a tinge of slapstick comedy. Director Dann Peterson did a great job casting this show and pulling out the best of spontaneously rehearsed (is that an oxymoron?) performances.

I'm loving this documentary work. I spent several sessions with this cast and loved working with them and watching them draw out their characters. It is very interesting to have a ring side seat at the development of these plays. And, I think the work shows that I have connected with much of what is going on. But...enough with my self-congratulatory remarks... on with the show!

<![CDATA[Beyond the Arena photographs...]]>Thu, 23 Jun 2016 16:37:47 GMThttp://rogerpwatts.com/blog/outer-circle-photographsI've had another chance to photograph actors behind the scenes as they prepare for their roles. In the most recent case, is the cast and crew for "Jeeves Intervenes," a British-inspired manner play about the fits and starts of relationships influenced by a hired hand of a bon vivant playboy...Jeeves the man-servant.

Actors at the The Theater in the Round do a terrific job working for just the right pitch and tone to their roles. They work hard for weeks, usually 3 hours a night in rehearsal and countless hours memorizing their roles or gathering their costumes. In this play, the actors have to also adopt English accents and in one case, Bertie (played by Aaron Henry) he has to have a cockney twist to it at one point that's well done.

The Beyond the Arena project goes well. I think the visual idea has been well established now with a few photographs that give us a look at how the actors work. But, I still feel the need to work hard to interpret what it is like to work so hard. And, I still don't have what is considered an "establishing" shot or a "closer" shot to the story. I think that'll come as I keep doing the work. This is going to take a year or more until we have a body of work that tells the story of acting and directing at the theater.

Right now, it's just fun to be around these actors and make some small contribution to the art form.
<![CDATA[Sense & Sensibility...]]>Wed, 08 Jun 2016 14:42:08 GMThttp://rogerpwatts.com/blog/sense-sensibilityJane Austen's manner play, "Sense & Sensibility," is a certain type of play that I find hard to photograph. There is very little action in the play except for the interaction of characters. And, even that is somewhat reserved by both the British nature of the characters and the fact it is set in the late 1800s when there were few real emotions that were allowed to fly between people. So, the scenes in this play make for troubling still photos.

But, the Theater in the Round Players production is a good one largely due to the actors who perform their roles in a credible and entertaining way. Again, the TRP is a terrific venue for emerging actors. In this case, eight of them were new to this theater and the director had never staged a performance in the TRP's circle. But, their familiarity with the roles proved to fit well within the circle and the audience loved it.

I am reaching a point with the production photography of these plays where I want more than just the straight-forward document of what takes places with the actors. Instead, I am trying to press for interpreting the scene much the same way the actors are. It is hard for a prosaic play like this one, but the difficulty is the same for all plays: The photos must "say" something, and it is necessary to show the passion and the verve of the action in a way that summarizes something larger than just the scene itself. That is what I am working on.

<![CDATA[Lange photo is artistic forgery?]]>Thu, 02 Jun 2016 15:33:20 GMThttp://rogerpwatts.com/blog/lange-photo-is-artistic-forgeryOne of the most iconic photographs of the 20th century, Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother," as been heralded by hundreds of photographers and art critics as a masterpiece. It seems timeless. It depicts a migrant mother in the dust bowl during the depression years apparently fretting over her plight and the condition of her children who cling to her as some Madonna. But, the photograph has always transcended it context, and has been vaulted into the stratosphere of images that somehow summarize not only a generation, but man(woman?)kind itself.
Here is my screen shot of it as it appears on a website of famous photographs.
However, I was stunned when I saw that the element of the photograph that seems to make it so appealing - the dramatic hand to her mouth that suggests worry, fear, anxiety and dread - may not be what it appears to be. Without this visual element, the photograph is merely one of thousands of pictures of migrant farmers caught in the devastation of both the Great Depression and the draught of the 1930s that drove them from the American plains states to the west coast in search of life-saving work.

And then, I discovered what could be an ugly truth thaty destroys not only this image as THE best example of documentary photography ever taken, but also one's faith in the process someone like Lange who has been lauded as the an exemplar of the photographic documentary form.

I think Lange set up the shot.

Here's why. On the same web site showing all of Lange's work is an image that was taken years before "Migrant Mother" when Lange was photographing in another part of America. This image is the telltale sign that maybe Lange was not as honest in her work as the documentary genre demands.

"Migrant Mother #1?"
This earlier photograph of what appears to be a mother with her children was shot years before the "migrant mother" we have all come to love. To me, it was shocking when I first saw it. The dramatic element of the hand to the face was there. It appears more awkward in some respects (as if the mother here was not exactly comfortable with the gesture) and it appears stilted. But, the suggestion is the same - worry, fear, dread. As a stand-alone photograph one might get that impression and be satisfied.

But, it is not iconic. And, perhaps it is not because of this mother's more awkward attempt to do what may have been suggested she do by, of all people...the photographer, Dorothea Lange.

In "Migrant Mother #1" when Lange may have first tested out the dramatic element of the hand to the face, it didn't quite work and editors who may have seen this photograph may have dismissed it as pedestrian given how the move of the hand to the face just doesn't seem real and may have been raised to the face in such a way as to pose for the shot.

In the "Migrant Mother" we all know and love, the expression seems so much more natural. One might not even notice the awkwardness of the first one were it not for the apparent genuineness of the latter. In fact, this second shot seems so spontaneous that one feels that Lange must have been extraordinarily lucky to have snapped it at the right moment. Not so in the first case...it appears that the mother was holding the pose long enough for the photograph to be taken.

What a difference. What a stunning travesty.

Documentary photography, by definition, is of the kind where the photographer is a mere "fly on the wall." The job of the documentary photographer is to work hard to ensure that his/her presence is not the factor that influences the scene being shot. The work is to record life as it unfolds, uninfluenced by the observer and, certainly, unaided in it dramatic effect. In fact, nearly every single book, monograph or video on documentary photography makes this point. 

If it is not so, then the photograph is certainly a photograph, but it is not documentary. Instead, it could be advertising (as in Lange's case it might have been given as how her mission was to "sell" the notion that migrants were escaping poverty and rushing to the promised land of California as the government editors of the Farm Services Administration wanted the world to see at the time). 

She is not the only photographer of the era to have done such a thing if it is true she did. Ben Shawn has long been accused of carrying around the skull of a longhorn steer that had once dried up in the desert so he could conveniently drop it into any number of photographic landscapes he made of the plains at the time. Even some of Walker Evans's photographs during the same era have been questioned, although there is no proof he arranged them for his camera. Most recently, a photographer in Iraq was criticized for perhaps dropping a rag doll on the ruins of a building that had been accused of being bombed by allied forces as a way to show the sadness of civilian children devastated by that war.

Lange's work is good...there is no doubt about that. But, she rose head and shoulders above her peer documentarians at the time with the "Migrant Mother" photograph. That set her apart.

If it is true that she set it up based on a gesture for the person sitting for her portraits, then it is a monumental ruse that has been put over on the public and on photographers at all levels for years. With this lie comes a host of problems many photographers today try to neutralize by being scrupulous as to how they photograph a scene. They are often criticized in war zones by partisans that they make pictures slanted toward one side or the other. And, skeptics at home often doubt the authenticity of the photographs they see.

This all leads to an erosion of confidence in the work that documentary photographers slavishly try to put forth as authentic records of life on the planet. It works against what ought to be a reportage of what the experience is like to be in war, to be poor, to be injured, to be mentally ill, and the work of David Douglas Duncan, Jacob Riis, Weegee, Mary Ellen Mark, and their like, made those kinds of themes resonate with viewers because they were so dedicated to the truth.

To discover that Lange cheated is a blow to me. But, perhaps the lesson is that one has to be even more dedicated to ensure that what is recorded in my camera is actually what happened AS it happened. Maybe that's the takeaway here.

It's a shame the point has to be made by seeing one time when it wasn't so.