The New Vintage Ensemble’s production of Hamlet took to the stage this past January and played to full houses for each of its two series of weekend performances. Well-acted, engaging, and visually stunning, the show was everything that the Ensemble had hoped it would be, and was a great kickoff to their year as the artists-in-residence at the Scranton Cultural Center.
NVE was kind enough to invite me to their final dress rehearsal to capture some images directly from the show itself. Dress rehearsals are ideal for this, as there usually isn’t anyone in the audience, and as a photographer I have free reign of the theater and am able to move around at will to best capture the action, all without having to worry about disrupting the experience for paying customers.
So without further ado, here’s a selection of images from the show, highlighting all the depth, moodiness, and tragedy that is Hamlet:
NVE is preparing for the rest of their 2016 season, with a variety of shows spread between June and December. Be sure to check out their website and events pages for more information!
The New Vintage Ensemble’s winter production of “Hamlet” is fast approaching, and it’s been announced that they will be holding it at the amazing Scranton Cultural Center. But amid an increasingly hectic rehearsal schedule, the cast took a few minutes out for another photoshoot with me.
We began our session with a group photo, which is a combination of promotional cast shot and a holiday greeting. Conor is back in the center chair in his role as Hamlet, with the rest of the cast around him. I’m not sure if the “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” concept at top was planned from the start, or if it was a spur-of-the-moment idea, but either way I absolutely love it! “Hamlet” is a pretty serious story and there’s plenty of evil to go around, so the juxtaposition of the cast’s seeming innocence versus Conor’s nonchalance in the middle of it all is just amazing.
After the group photos, the cast began their nightly briefing session and I changed my setup for some headshots. Everyone cycled through in the span of about fifteen minutes – I made the headshots short and painless, and am very pleased with how they came out:
As with the first batch of promotional photography, we knew starting out that everything would be processed in black & white. It’s vital to know this ahead of time, so you can focus on tonalities instead of colors. You’d never know that the backdrop wall in the headshots is actually a lovely blue that translated very well as a neutral gray.
The next time I see this cast, they’ll be on stage. After almost three months of rehearsals, I can’t wait to see what they’ve come up with. Break a leg guys!
I had the distinct pleasure of being asked to photograph the Scranton Fringe Festival’s Thank You party last week. Conor and Liz, the geniuses behind the festival, hosted a special party for the folks who did so much to help support Fringe throughout their first year. Best of all, the Scranton Children’s Library kindly offered their space for the reception; it’s a truly beautiful and magical space that really helped make this celebration extra special.
My main mission that night was to setup a sort of interactive photobooth. The Children’s Library has the ideal setup, with an extensive built-in puppet theater and risers. They were very generous in letting us pull a selection of hand and stick puppets from their (very large!) collection to use as props. With a couple of studio lights setup, we were in business!
These photobooth sessions have become quite popular over the past few years, and I’ve done a few of them for different organizations. What I enjoy most is seeing folks relax their inhibitions and partake in the props – many of them silly – for the sake of making a few fun photos.
This evening also served as the official announcement that the Scranton Fringe Festival will be moving forward for a second year! The details are still to come, but the Festival had such a stellar first year, and garnered a lot of attention both nationally and even internationally, that they are well on track for 2016.
My hat goes off to Scranton Fringe and it’s leadership – building a festival from the ground up is hard to begin with, and all the more so when you factor in all the moving pieces of a performance arts festival. Frings was an unparalleled success in its first year, and they’ve set the bar high – I can’t wait to see what they come up with for the next one!
“To be, or not to be, that is the question….” Ah yes, that quote that everyone knows – even those of you who didn’t spend an entire semester in college studying the works of Shakespeare! That, and the quintessential image of Hamlet, the mad prince of Denmark, holding the skull of poor Yorik. “I knew him well, Hortatio.”
We tried to put a slightly different spin on things…
I’m speaking, of course, of the New Vintage Ensemble’s upcoming production of “Hamlet,” which will appear on stage in Scranton this coming January. This will be NVE’s first mainstage production since their smash hit rendition of “Pride and Prejudice” in 2013, and I know that I’m not alone when I say that I am VERY curious to see what they’ve come up with this time.
A few weeks back I worked with the “Hamlet” production team to shoot a series of early promotional photos, and although that kind of access gives me a peek inside the production, I still don’t know all the details, except that it’s looking damn good!
Conor O’Brien is taking the lead as the mad prince himself, and he took to the stage for us during the photoshoot. The whole concept from the production team and director Casey Thomas was a series of images that emphasized darkness. Hamlet alone in blackness, seeming to come out of the darkness, with a little help from some well-considered props.
We had four concepts going in, and we used variations on the same overall setup to capture each of them. First, Conor in an antique high-back chair, almost lounging in it, both with and without some props. Then the three-hands image, which is featured at the top of this post, with Conor still in the chair, but three shadowy hands reaching out, one to each side and one above, holding props.
This was, by far, the biggest success of our shoot that day – a relatively complex scene that came together perfectly, and perhaps even better than we had imagined. Some fun facts: we weren’t able to find a crown that looked right, so we actually fashioned one out of materials we found on-site moments before taking these photos. And the liquid in the goblet? Yeah, it’s hot chocolate.
Our third concept was to get Conor up out of his chair and have him standing, screaming for the camera. This is more of a play on the “mad prince” aspect of the character, but it was a lot of fun to shoot, since Conor wasn’t able to fake a scream. So for each frame we shot, he actually screamed random words at the camera – including “dooooooooor!” – which usually left all of us dissolving into laughter.
We ended the day with the most unusual series, where we wrote the famous “to be or not to be” quote across Conor’s face and neck with a makeup pencil. We put him back on stage, standing, and coaxed some madness-inspired expressions from him before calling it a wrap.
We knew all along that the final photos would be in black & white, which gave us a lot of leeway in our setups. It’s really essential to know if you’re using color of black & white before you walk into a shoot; with color you have to really pay attention to the colors that are present, how they interact and contrast, and how they actually appear in the photos. With black & white, it’s all about tones – a half-dozen different colors may all produce the same shade of gray, so you can drop that factor out of the mental equation.
Working with the New Vintage Ensemble is always a pleasure, and I’ve come to expect that these folks will just hit it out of the park any time they step in front of my camera. I guess that sets the bar pretty high for them, but they keep meeting it!
During the summer I shared some promotional photos from the studio session I did with Kathryn Bondi, owner and designer of Broken Twig. A few weeks after our studio shoot, we got together again for a second session to create a more environmental series of photos.
All products benefit from environmental or beauty-shot photos – something that highlights their qualities and puts them into perspective in a way that potential buyers can relate to and appreciate. And in the case of Broken Twig, what we really needed was a way to highlight the designs – literally.
Each Broken Twig design incorporates elements of rustic, natural design with new-age lighting, in the form of either LED lights or candles. And while the studio promos did a great job of showing design details and produced clean, static portraits, the necessary studio lighting overpowered the design’s built-in lights.
Our goal during the environmental session was to let those lights shine – and did they ever!
We set up outdoors at twilight and waited for evening to really start turning into night before we began shooting. Our goal was to find a setting that had both natural and light-urban elements, like you’d find in a backyard, to highlight the rustic, homey feeling of the designs.
The photography was all done from a tripod, without any auxiliary lighting. The result was a series of long-exposures, which really let the pieces build up a glow and show their function as lit accent pieces in a relatable setting.
Of course there were some challenges to overcome, such as setting up and leveling shots on unlevel ground. We had some interesting moments with the suspended pieces as well. Hanging them from a studio boom with the necessary outlet power was easy, but getting them motionless sure wasn’t! Even the slightest breeze set some of them in motion, and it took a lot of tries to finally get a motion-less photo.
By the time we called it a wrap, it was full-on nighttime. I’ll close with one of the last setups we photographed, which is also one of my favorites – the Midnight Moon lamp set against a deepening sky and a rising crescent moon!
It’s that time of year again – my favorite season is upon us and, with the changing leaves, shortened days, and falling temperatures, there is no denying that autumn is here. Of course despite all those natural changes, it wouldn’t really be autumn without that annual rite of passage, the Bonfire Festival at the Scranton Iron Furnaces.
I’ve been attending the bonfire since 2012 and, as I think I say each year, it’s one of my favorite events of the year. The Iron Furnaces are such a cool site to begin with, and I am always grateful to see the city and county using them as an events space in general. But the bonfire is the ultimate party there, and in my mind it harkens back to the days when the furnaces were active with their own hellfires burning.
The Bonfire Festival is really a multicultural celebration, with informational displays and an exhibit test on-site to highlight the harvest festival traditions of many cultures. The number seems to grow each year, and this year even included the ancient Egyptians. It’s cool stuff! Then add in theatrical and musical performances, food and drink vendors, and even some fortune tellers, and you can see why it’s a heck of a good time.
But of course the bonfire itself is the centerpiece, and this year in particular the crowd was anxious for the lighting ceremony. It was a cold night, one of the first we’ve had this year, and the temperature was down in the 40s with a just enough of a breeze to cut through your jacket. And as much as that pile of sculpture and timber is a symbol of ancient tradition, it was a symbol of warmth!
I got a prime spot for the lighting and was able to enjoy the fire for several minutes, soaking in the heat, before it crossed the threshold. That’s the funny thing about the bonfire – as much as you want to see it lit and warm up next to it, only minutes later it’s a raging inferno that’s much TOO hot to be near, and the same crowd that was pressing in against the barriers is now hurrying away before their eyebrows singe!
We came, we rejoiced. We ate and drank. We saw friends and reveled. And when we left, we made our usual stop atop the furnaces, so we could look down on the festival and the bonfire itself, already beginning to burn itself out.
So here’s to the harvest season, to the summer passed and to the spring that awaits us on the far side of winter. And here’s to the Bonfire Festival and the fine folks at the county who organize it each year – long may this be a Scranton tradition!
Meet Broken Twig, the creations of local artist and graphic designer Kathryn Bondi. Crafted using branches sourced at the nearby Nay Aug Park, Kathryn constructs these stunning lights that somehow fuse a natural rustic aesthetic with a clean, modern style. And the result is beautiful!
Broken Twig launched this summer, and since then Kathryn has been featured in Scranton’s monthly First Friday art walk, and was also one of the vendors who took part in the annual Arts on the Square festival. So of course being new, and building her own website, she needed some product photos.
After discussing her needs, we decided to break the photo shoot into two parts: a studio session where we’d capture a series of well-lit detail and full-product photos, and a second later session, where we’d move outside and capture environmental beauty shots of each piece.
Starting with the studio made the most sense, as it allowed me to become familiar with each piece from a photographic standpoint. We began the session with a series of tight close-up photos, rotating each piece through a white lightbox in order to capture the exquisite detail present in each. One of the joys of Kathryn’s work is discovering all the little details built into each. Even working closely with them the way I was, several times I was surprised to find a subtle element that I’d overlooked to that point, be it a piece of rope work, a charm, or a feather.
From the lightbox we progressed to using a red wall and my credenza as a shooting area, to capture full product shots. The original plan had called for a more environmental approach, where we’d have the items in a well-lit room and capture them in situ. But as we started trying to setup for that approach, we found that it simply wasn’t working out. It happens, perhaps more often than most people realize – an idea that sounded great on the drawing board falls apart in reality.
The red wall was the solution; we shifted from a semi-environmental setting to a much simpler studio setting, and were able to get back on track and move forward. Through the course of a couple of hours we photographed each piece, about eight in total, ranging from the bottle designs, to several hanging lamps and candle holders, which we suspended from a photographic boom and maneuvered into position.
In the red background shots, the plant and clay pot are actually items from my own decor, which we conscripted into service as props. This happens a lot too. In this case, it was a matter of putting the first couple of pieces – the whiskey bottle designs – onto the credenza against the red background, and realizing that there was something missing.
Although the whiskey bottles provide a sense of scale themselves, there was still an emptiness to the images – they needed something else, a subtle dash of color, something to accept the pieces (with without distracting from them). So we grabbed an orchid and the blue pot, and swapped them out as we worked through the different pieces, and found that they gave the photos exactly the element that they needed.
This last photo is one of my favorites, and all the credit goes to Kathryn, who thought to bring along some of her source materials in their raw form. It’s such a simple image, but I know that I always appreciate it when artists show this kind of background insight – what did they start with? What did it look like before it became art?
There’s more to come in part two, when we’ll look at the second shoot – stick around!
Scranton kicked off July with it’s monthly First Friday arts celebration, downtown businesses opening their doors to host local artists and art-admirers through the evening. This month’s timing blended the annual Independence Day festivities into the mix, which made for a fantastic event.
I spent the first hour or so at The Leonard, where the New Vintage Ensemble had scheduled two performances of “Color so Real,” a play written by local playwright and ensemble member Sara Regan, performed by ensemble members Kimmie Leff and Casey Thomas, and directed by Mandy Boyle, my lovely fiancee.Read More...
Being well aware that it’s nearly time for the 2014 Bonfire at the Scranton Iron Furnaces, I thought that I’d better get the photos from last year posted, shamefully late, so that they aren’t mixing with the photos I’m already planning to take this year.
Hosted by Lackawanna County, the annual Bonfire celebration is the apex of my autumn season, the event I look forward to – and enjoy – more than any other, save perhaps Thanksgiving itself. It is a festival of all the things that make Scranton great, a mixture of cultures and traditions, performances and exhibits, all topped off by the ceremonial lighting of a roaring bonfire just outside of downtown.Read More...