Blog: Eyes of the Viewer

Picture

by Ashley Labonde
Wide Eyed Studios
www.wideeyedstudio.com

My grandmother was a big believer in the arts. Thanks to her, my childhood was peppered with trips to the local theater, the orchestra, and yearly journeys to Broadway as I entered high school. As a long time ticket holder, she always had great seats, and I would sit at the edge of said seat wide eyed, watching masterpieces like Into the Woods, Ragtime, Miss Saigon, and Les Mis long before I could drive. 

 There was, however, one problem: I always wanted to be closer. I once said I wanted to be so close that I could see the sweat on an actors face as he performed. That, I thought, was real intimacy. In live theater you are a participant in the story, not just an audience member. And boy, did I want to participate!

These days, I still go to the theater regularly, but I no longer sit in a seat. Instead, I get to play the role of photographer. After acquiring degrees in Visual Anthropology, Gender Studies and Photojournalism, I opened my own business: Wide Eyed Studios. My camera has allowed me to adventure far and wide, creating stories and memories for my clients in a variety of settings, and although I love shooting weddings, births, babies and non-profits, among other things, there is a special allure to capturing live theater.

It’s always a joy shooting at the Hedgerow, thanks to a beautiful old space and a great cast of staff and actors. I am occasionally called to create a posed portrait for a poster, but more often than not they bring me in to photograph a run with no audience to document the show for posterity and promotion. 

I’m a little odd in how I shoot these shows; rather than standing where the audience sits, I’m usually creeping in the wings, sneaking around the back or just plain on the stage right up next to the actors. It’s always interesting when one of the actors is unfamiliar with my process as it can be distracting to act and sing when my big lens is right in your face! However, my purpose is not to be annoying. 

 As a photographer, I have the opportunity to provide unique vantage points for my viewers rather than simply recording the show as one might see it from the audience. We all watch movies–our eyes long to zoom in, to see the tear not just hear a hunched over body crying.

 I’m still that little girl who wants to be so close to the action that I can feel it, and I bring that vision to my photography. I run around, I lay on the ground, I have almost been hit with a flying suitcase, all to create a set of images that surprise and delight and give you a sense that you are inside the show. I use interesting angles, I layer my subjects, I accentuate the beautiful lighting and set design and costuming, but most importantly, I try to make images that make people feel something.

Photographing a show is truly a group effort. I can’t make someone feel something if the actor isn’t doing their job well. The cast provides the words, the music, the emotion, and I use my imagery to try and convey that emotion and a larger meaning in a visual story form. Together, we can create theater images that are more than just a smiling face: we can open the eyes of the viewer to a whole new world.