Photo Shoot: Shadows and Light and Set Models
Wednesday June 5, 2013
New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, 40 Lincoln Center Plaza
A theme to be explored in an upcoming issue of Chance Magazine is theatre and boxes — in set designs, in conceptual frameworks, in storage, in perception. One component of those explorations will be in new and luscious photographs of set models in the collection of the Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. In particular, we expect to present a range of models of the designers Ming Cho Lee and Boris Aronson. On a day in early June, deep within the archives of the Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, we examine set models by these masters (and their masterful assistants) and work to capture construction nuances with the help of photographer Plamen Petkov. Set design as high art — in boxes.
In the first issue of Chance published in May, I author a Monograph on the work of designer Ben Edwards (1916-1999) featuring paint elevations and sketches and fabric swatches and production photographs. I feel privileged to have had any small part in honoring the legacy of a man whose career was one of the most prolific in 20th century American theatre design. Edwards says to Michael Yeargan in a 1994 interview quoted extensively in this article: “I don’t believe in reality in the theatre. It’s the illusion of reality that I believe in. I believe in tremendous elimination.” Our examination through this first Monograph seeks Edwards’ strategies of elimination while directing our close photographic treatment to some of his archival treasures and ephemera located (for the time being) in carefully packed basement storage at his widow Jane Greenwood‘s residence.
I am now applying our evolving Monograph treatment to the deep and varied design career of Boris Aronson (1900-1980). Much of Aronson’s theatrical design legacy is formally archived at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts in a well-documented and available set of boxes and other materials that I have begun to examine, with some glee. Aronson’s witty and wise and acerbic 1975 conversation with Garson Kanin archived at the NYPL Theatre on Film and Tape Archive provides some of the core structural elements for this evolving Monograph text. This day’s photo shoot is organized around deep photography of selected set models for iconic Aronson sets including the delicious, haunting, evocative, pivotal set model for Follies (1971). The glories of Petkov’s new photography of this iconic set, including plans to place a panoramic camera inside the set itself, shall await the next issue of the magazine. For the moment, join me in the wonder and magic of looking on this small world via my own modest photographs, and the ways in which we at Chance continue to attempt to record and build upon the design legacies of our theatrical past.
© Martha Wade Steketee (June 11, 2013)