The Show Must Go On

June 11, 2017  •  1 Comment

 

Anyone can take a picture. I think famous photography collector Michael Wilson put it best when he said:

"Thousands of commercial photographers and a hundred times as many amateurs were producing millions of photographs annually. The decline in the quality of professional work and the deluge of snapshots resulted in a world awash with technically good but aesthetically indifferent photographs." 

He was not talking about cell phones. He wasn't even talking about the era of one hour labs and instant film. He was referring to  the year 1888 when the Kodak 1 was introduced to the world with the catchy slogan, "You press the button, we do the rest."

Brownie 1Photo Credit: WWW.KODAK.COM

Selfie Stick not included

 

Suddenly, voila! For the past one hundred and twenty nine years, anyone can take a picture.

So why photography? For starters I suppose I need to share some history. Not the history of art as a whole, not even the history of photography as an art form.

For now, I wanted to share my history: The story of how, after exploring so many others with varying degrees of success, I choose photography as my one means of artistic expression. 

To start, a whirlwind tour of what brought me to this point...

I won't over-share on the trials and tribulations of my less than idyllic youth except to say I grew up in a fading industrial town in Upstate New York where it was gray most of the year and there was lots of snow, poverty, and a dysfunctional home life.

That's me! Precious little snowflake # 26,598,263 from the left.

I was a shy, introverted young adult without a lot going on. My life was working my newspaper route, lots and lots of reading fantasy fiction, waiting for the next Star Wars movie to come out, Atari, and later MTV. I was Narcissus staring at my own imagination with no creative outlet until one day I saw a game in a bookstore that made me want to create like nothing had before.

Dungeons & Dragons is a game where a player, called the Dungeon Master, would create a thoroughly detailed fantasy world and the other players of the game, through colorful geometric dice and an elaborate system of rules, would adventure their way through it. I cringe even now to read that title Dungeon Master because this was back before Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies, Harry Potter, or comic book conventions when being a nerd was NOT considered cool at all or, for that matter, even remotely desirable.

 

Dragon Magazine #32Photo Credit: SWORD & SHIELD: FGU Artwork by Larry Elmore

But DUDE! There was even a monthly magazine about all things D&D! How cool is that?

I was instantly hooked to the point where I liked creating these imaginary worlds and characters on reams of graph paper even more than I liked playing the game. Careers for Dungeon Masters were scarce, though.  Being completely lost in my own imagination would not get me through life, or so I thought.  Plus, awkward as I felt around them, I liked people and wanted to connect with the world. High School graduation was bearing down like a freight train. I needed a plan.

When I was 16 years old I knew exactly what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be when I grew up: Don Johnson's depiction of Sonny Crocket on Miami Vice.

St. VitiusPhoto Credit: Miami Vice Wikia

Mostly the part where he lives on a sail boat in a harbor in Miami, wears really cool clothes,

and broods a lot with a totally awesome soundtrack scoring his entire angst-riddled life.

 

I came to the conclusion so many people who travel through their own dreams and imaginary worlds more than real life came to: I should be a writer. I signed up for the English elective creative writing  and, alas, it was full. So, I did the next most creative thing on the list and signed up for the English elective Drama. I don't remember the moment I chose that instead, but it defined my life, at least, my "day job", ever since. 

The year: 1985  Me on the left, makeup artist extraordinaire Eric America on the right giving a demonstration of special effects makeup for Jamestown High School's drama class.  Excuse the coffee ring. Photographs get their wear and tear after traveling to a dozen different states over three decades.

 

Part of the requirement for passing Drama class was to volunteer eight hours of my time at the local community theatre. My first memory of theatre is slop paint.  Slop paint is the five gallon plastic bucket where all the paint colors, carefully chosen by set designers, go to die once the show has closed. Nothing else in the world smells like it. It is the underlying backstage smell of every theatre I have ever worked in. Paints from previous productions get mixed into this 'slop bucket'  which inevitably turns sh*t brown and is used to base-coat the next set. My first day showing up backstage at Jamestown Little Theatre, that's what I did. Covered all the walls, and myself, in dull brown paint. Then I was offered some stew for dinner with the theatre staff and some of the performers. There was a small kitchenette offstage with a crockpot always simmering with stew for the volunteers. Sitting in that dark backstage was cozy. What struck me the most, was that I was not breaking bread with a random assembly of volunteers. It was sitting down with family. A family with a warmth and acceptance I had never experienced anywhere else.

Me and the Lullaby League

Me on the far left buried in the Lullaby League and other cast

members for The Wizard of Oz at Jamestown Little Theatre

 

I had gone in to fulfill my volunteer commitment of eight hours. I ended up staying for four years.

 

The set transformed from my dull brown base paint to a cozy children's bedroom in London. I don't remember the second show I have worked on, or the hundredth. But I vividly remember the first, Peter Pan.

My most vivid memory is seeing the scene change for the first time. With the hiss of the fog machines and raising of the lights, a mundane children's bedroom transformed into a magical forest with exotic beasts. Never Never Land. It was then it occurred to me: People actually do this for a living!

I dreamed of doing other things, but for the next four years, I lived backstage at either the community theatre, or the theatre at Jamestown Community College. 

Bye Bye BirdieThe black and white photographs were actually projected on a giant screen as the orchestra played the overture. The big goofy grin (bottom)was the final shot as the screen raised and the show began. Always got a laugh.

That's me rockin' the gold lame', leather jacket and hair as Conrad Birdie

Though I did a couple of acting bits, mostly type-casting playing the likes of Conrad Birdie, my real love was being back stage. It was building sets right after school, then staying late into the night for rehearsals. Then lots of hanging out in bars and going to people's houses for parties.

The lifestyle did not lead to academic excellence. I was a good test-taker so I kind of got by but, really, did not have any options by the time I had graduated from the local community college. So, I put all of my eggs into one basket, applied to one college, and was accepted into their design and production program. 

Sh*t got real.

A Midsummer Night's Dream

University of North Carolina School of the Arts

Life turned from parties and daydreaming backstage to an intensive program of woodworking, metalworking and welding, color and design, textiles and lots of really intense mathematics for engineering.

Beaux Arts BallNorth Carolina School of the Arts 1991

But, let's be honest: High stress arts school with brilliant artists and artisans looking to blow off steam? The parties kicked ass!

Decades later and I still don't know how I feel about having attended The North Carolina School of the Arts. Dickens' classic novel opening, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" comes to mind. The year previous to my attending that school, Psychology Today had published a study listing the most stressful colleges in the country. NCSA was listed as #2 right behind Harvard Law. 

On the VergeMy first gig as Technical Director in my Junior year.

Set for On the Verge

Made out of vinyl tubing. The same clear tubing connected to your arm when you receive an IV in the hospital

 

I had no idea what I was doing there. What began as learning new things quickly turned into surviving the program. I could go on. There's a lot of BS in any institution and NCSA was no exception. I self medicated a lot with booze and cigarettes. I maxed out at three packs a day.

On the other hand, I was surrounded by brilliance and I loved it.

On the Verge

The set in action. An awesome play about three victorian women traveling through time.

There were visual arts students drawing and painting at all hours of the night in the studios. There were amazing musicians practicing on the commons lawn. Beautiful dancers and aspiring actors. And, of course, the stage techs aspiring to be professional lighting designers, sound engineers, prop makers and set designers. So, it was amazing and made me neurotic all at once.

Romance LanguagesNCSA My first production senior year as Technical Director.

Romance Languages

I will say this for the program. When I got out, I was good. Eager to hang out with "normal" people again, little to no desire to continue with theater, tens of thousands of dollars in debt with guaranteed student loans, and not nearly as good as I thought I was, but I was good. I suppose in the end the program did what it was meant to do. Now out to the real world.

Romance LanguagesNCSA What does being burned out and turned off by theater and, really, art in general have to do with becoming a fine art photographer? Find out next Sunday right here at Real Florida Photo.

King LearStage Preset NCSA

There must be some mistake
I didn't mean to let them take away my soul
Am I too old, is it too late?

where has the feeling gone?
(Ooh, ma, ooh, pa) will I remember the songs?
(Ooh, ah)
The show must go on

           ~Pink Floyd

        The Wall


Comments

Mike C(non-registered)
Awesome! I grew up with Dungeons and Dragons as well, that book cover brings back some serious flashbacks of late nights drinking gallons of mountain dew and obsessing over hit points.. haha!
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