June 2018: Galas and Gal Pals

June was an interesting half a month at Williamstown.

My very first responsibility, before meeting all of my coworkers, before any kind of orientation, etc. was to shoot or delegate photos of all of the department heads and all of the departments, as I’ve talked about in another post. It was a lighthearted way to explore the campus and get to know the other Festival staff in my first few days.

June also showered us with several of the events that keep Williamstown thriving: galas and donor parties.

I’ve shot plenty of donor parties over the years, with mixed successes. Not every donor party is as vivacious and happy as ours were at the Festival, so I was actually quite surprised that, even in the most tightly packed spaces, I was able to be a fly on the wall as much as I wanted.

Still, for what it’s worth, I think it helped that most of our donor parties involved the presence of celebrities. Wouldn’t you be happy if you got to have sushi and drinks with Matthew Broderick or David Cromer?

Over the years, one of the facets of ‘growing up’ as a photographer has been learning to shoot for what the client wants, even at the expense of what I want. Shooting as a photojournalist means getting the best image no matter what, even if it doesn’t flatter the client; shooting as a publicity photographer means the opposite. When I was at Idyllwild, I had a moment of internal chest-clutching when I was told to stop shooting like a photojournalist and start shooting with the intention of showing happiness – even, if necessary, telling a subject to smile.

This was totally anathema to the photojournalistic standards I had had drilled into me at the Daily, where interfering in a scene in any way was expressly forbidden. I think I only specifically told subjects at Idyllwild to smile on a small number of occasions, but I’ve since learned, through trial and error, how to both train my eye to follow the smiles naturally and make unobtrusive small talk that helps people relax and feel comfortable around me without being performatively happy for the camera.

But I got lucky: I didn’t have to do as much of that this summer as I had expected I would. I found that, at Williamstown galas, I could just be, and just let everyone else be, too.

One of the other benefits of working at Williamstown was that I had some flexibility to take on gigs at other theatres. In June, I got to photograph Debra Jo Rupp (Kitty from That 70s Show) in a show called The Cake, which was about a baker who doesn’t want to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple.

As someone who grew up in Kentucky before moving to Massachusetts for college, I was frustrated at how commonplace it was for people to pity me and assume that I had lived in an uneducated, bigoted community. Even outside of Massachusetts specifically, it was difficult to explain the degrees of religious conservatism to people who didn’t want to listen: that there is a difference between someone who is actively hateful and someone who is passively opposed to pro-LGBT laws for no other reason than their religion. It is an issue full of nuance, and understanding it without context only leads to stereotyping, and, frequently, classism.

I assumed that this show was going to be something along those lines – that it would appease the (presumably) leftist audience by pandering to their stereotypes and sense of woke-ness, that it would be a straightforward morality play where Della was the obvious villain who gets her comeuppance in the end.

Boy was I wrong, and thank God.

This show defied all of my expectations. It was incredibly full of nuance and subtlety. Everything was top-notch – the acting, the set design, the script, the lighting – really, this play was a blessing. I so appreciated the character of Jen, a Southern lesbian, who has to grapple with and explain the complexities of Della’s beliefs to a partner who disagrees with her – albeit from a very valid perspective of her own. Everything was so understandable, relatable, accessible – I watched the play thinking, I know these people. I’ve been to this bakery.

This blog is a new
project of mine, and although most other photographers with blogs (that I’ve
seen, at least) typically only include one paragraph of text at the beginning
and then a long stack of AP-style-captioned images, it would feel incomplete
and disingenuous if I did not include more analysis and reflection on how things

But for now, with that said, I will at least admit that June was not a month of significant photography challenges per se. Those were yet to come. But it was a month that gave as much as it took. It was nearly four months ago today, amazingly, but it was a great start to my shortest, yet most impactful, position yet.

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