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Photographing actors – my mini photo essay

Recently I was asked to photograph actors during a rehearsal for a new play called “The grammar of love” at the Oval House Theatre in south London. It was an exciting opportunity as I had never worked with actors as a photographer.

My very good friend, Nuala O’Sullivan, who wrote the play, wanted the images to be in B&W. Mostly. That was the brief. The rest was up to me.

The biggest challenge was the space. A small rehearsal room painted black, with very harsh fluorescent lighting. Small and therefore very intimate too. Which was good for me, but I wasn’t sure how the actors would react to having a lens in their faces pretty much all the time.

Well, I’m glad to report they coped well. The constant clicking didn’t distract them, they didn’t fluff their lines, although I had to give up using flash as that proved too much in a small confined space like that.

The other tricky bit was the fact I saw only a few crucial scenes, but not the whole play. So I had to work out who the characters were and what the chemistry between them was.

But more importantly, I also had to remain one step ahead of them. In such a small space, without a prior knowledge of the script, I had no idea where they would move of what they would do next. There were a couple of moments when I had to beat a hasty retreat when an actor lunged towards me unexpectedly.

I guess it was more stressful for them than it was for me – after all they couldn’t stop mid-sentence to let me know they were about to move my way. But a great learning experience for me. I’m sure seasoned photojournalists deal with such situations on a daily basis.

I was wondering whether to say much about the play itself, but I won’t. All you need to know is that it takes place in Tokyo and passions run high… I’ll let the images speak for themselves.

However, I had to withhold a few shots in order not to give away too much – I don’t want to spoil it for Nuala. Or you. With a bit of luck, the play should open at the Oval House Theatre this autumn. And you should definitely see it then.

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