Stages Calling: National Theatre

An exhibition of theatre photographs from South Africa by Ruphin Coudyzer at the National Theatre

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I co-curated this exhibition of Ruphin Coudyzer’s photographs of South African theatre productions with director Jane Collins after we produced her play The Story of the African Choir at the Market Theatre, Johannesburg. This National Theatre exhibition continued a formal acknowledgement of the theatre photographer as a specialist and artist – a specialist in that they are responsible for capturing a sequence of distinctive and therefore defining flashes of theatrical brilliance. Along side this work we have begun to appreciate how rounded or idiosyncratic they are as artists. In the same year there was a major retrospective of Angus McBean’s surreal work at the National Portrait Gallery, Nobby Clark’s portraits of London are over were over in the Lyttleton exhibition space and then this, Ruphin’s production work, but recognising from his biography and his attitude to theatre work that his practice is informed by other fields.

What strikes us most about Ruphin’s work photographs (and this is probably key to most successful theatre photographers), is his engagement in the subject that is as intense as the relationship the performer has with the audience – in the moment. The moments are energised and intimate – a one-on-one with the viewer.

What this also does in many instances is to transcend the time and place of the production – I am living, not re-living that moment regardless of it’s part in the Market’s history. I am there.

As a designer, I am however teased by them; I want to know what the whole experience may have been: how those performances were framed and informed by the other components of the show. I am frustrated by not knowing who the designers were who made a contribution to these images. As partly responsible for the curation of this exhibition – I hold myself somewhat responsible for this. Anyhow, maybe that’s only of casual interest in this situation… the point of the exhibition is to celebrate ‘the moment’ through the lens of an artist.