The Act of Constructing
—a theoretical research
Staged Photography is about constructing an image by means such as directing, creating a set, casting the protagonists and styling them. It is about creating a stage, which resembles the way theatre pieces are made.
Theatre is one of the oldest art forms known in cultural history and therefore I believe it has a lot to give to staged photography, which is still in its puberty. As Aristotle wrote in his famous work Poetics, the classical theatre is based on affecting the feelings of the spectator, which will lead to a catharsis of emotions of the audience. This drags the attention of the spectator away from the real life into the stage– the narrative of the story. In contrast, to keep the audience full aware of the theatre being just a representation of reality – not reality in itself – the theatre theoretic Bertolt Brecht developed the concept of the epic theatre, which focus is on making the audience think critically on the external social order without falling into a catharsis of emotions.
Can Bertolt Brecht’s theory on Epic Theatre be applied to staged photography and through its methods get the spectator to look harder and think more deeply? What kind of techniques can be used to remind the spectator about the constructed nature of a photograph? By asking these questions I aimed to find ways to introduce the spectator to reflect on the issues presented in the photographs – not to see the world exactly as it is shown or only as a reflection of reality, but to learn to look, think and discover aspects of their own reality through the photographs presented.
Perhaps the most important concept for Brecht’s theatre is the alienation effect, which aims to make the character’s decisions and choices explicit and to detach the audience from any emotional delusion of witnessing a real scene. This effect would be achieved by using different techniques that do not let the spectators to become passive. The concept behind the alienation effect made me develop an idea of a blank empty room, where to stage scenes using a minimal amount of props in order to make the spectator imagine and think about the photographs. During this process, I found out, that using this method would have to be a subtle play between keeping the interest of the viewer in the image and confusing her/him totally, because after all I believe that is important not to alienate the viewers too much.
My main intention in bringing the theories of the epic theatre into photography is to engage the spectator to spend a slightly longer moment in front of a photograph to be able to use its content in understanding the people around her/him a bit better. To create confusion. To question what one is looking at.
Covering the most important theories behind the epic theatre helped me to find tools to break the fourth wall in photography, in other words, to make the spectator active and not just a passive viewer. Notwithstanding, it is important to treat staged photography in its own terms, not trying to adapt the unadoptable, but rather to transform it into the language of photography.
Published in Amsterdam, 2016.