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Australian performance photography hits the stage

Arts Centre Melbourne is showing Framing the Stage, an extensive online photo exhibition exploring highlights from its rich archive, featuring informative commentary from leading theatre photographer, Jeff Busby.

Are We That We Are, Sydney Dance Company, 2010. Photo: Jeff Busby.

Online photo exhibitions have become a staple since the start of 2020, and are now delivered in various formats and styles. They range from classic online image galleries or slideshows, clunky 3D virtual gallery tours, or well-designed interactive photo presentations.

Framing the Stage: The art of performance photography fits into the ‘interactive photo presentations’ category. As viewers scroll down the page, images appear alongside captions including insightful observations by Busby. The team behind it clearly put considerable effort into crafting a meaningful and worthwhile online experience.

The photos span over a century, from historical images captured at the beginning of the 20th century, through to contemporary performance photography covering ballet, circus, dance, theatre and opera. The exhibition includes work by the likes of Busby, Robert McFarlane, Helmut Newton, Harry Jay, Robert Colvin, Branco Gaica, Ponch Hawkes and Heidrun Löhr.

Framing the Stage was developed last year during Victoria’s second-wave lockdown, with assistant curator for the Australian Performing Arts Collection, Ian Jackson, working closely with Busby.

‘I found it an extremely rewarding process and allowed me to reflect in a way I perhaps hadn’t been able to until recently,’ Busby said. ‘In particular delving into the collection and opening up a whole gamut of thoughts and how the photos over time have fit into the bigger picture. These moments only happened once, and through these moments, with layering and attention you are able to capture a moment in time which reflects a complex matrix of performance. We’ve managed to uncover and present photos that entice, entertain and have a timeless quality to them.’

Here’s an excerpt of the exhibition, exploring how stage photography and stage lighting evolved in tandem:


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