October 9: Lost in Boston

No in-depth story this time, but I’ll say this: the best part about being currently “between jobs” is that I have the freedom to take short-term gigs. I lucked out when, about a month ago, The Freedom Trail Foundation posted that they were looking for a publicity photographer with experience in photojournalism. If you know me, you know that I love history – I was involved with Reacting to the Past, a historical roleplaying class series, for four years and a summer in college, alternately as a player, preceptor, and publicist – and I love historical reenactment even more. I thought this would be a perfect gig for me – and so did they!

Due to some lucky scheduling coincidences, I was able to make a weeklong “workcation” out of it. I didn’t do absolutely everything I wanted to, but when I wasn’t shooting, I made the rounds to nearly all of my Bostonian friends and their associated workplaces – Old North Church, the Old State House, etc. I learned that the clock in the Old State House, old as it is, actually loses five minutes every week, and an employee has to climb up into an attic space in the very high up clock tower to reset its very heavy and anvil-esque pendulum manually. I got to be involved with this process – not so much as a participant per se, but rather as a witness who realized how grateful she was not to have to climb up hundreds of stairs to squeeze into a dark wooden box every Monday. 

The only downside was that the eight-hour day of photoshooting with the Freedom Trail Foundation and walking something like four miles gave me a slight knee injury, but lesson learned for next time. I’ll be going back in a few weeks to do part two of the shoot, hopefully when the weather is better – the weather app had predicted sunshine up until the day before our scheduled photoshoot day! 

One really cool element of my trip was getting to photograph a certain Peter Slater, Jr., a spirited nineteen-year-old apprentice who participated in the Boston Tea Party. 

Slater’s good friend Mac Leslie is an actor I worked with four years ago at New Century Theatre, and Mac had scheduled his last day working at the Tea Party Museum before taking on a new role as a theatre teacher. As a favor to Mac for getting me into the Museum for free (tickets are $30 otherwise), I documented the occasion as thoroughly as possible.

Anyway, in the interest of keeping this post short, I will say: I learned a ton on this trip, everything was great, photo-wise and otherwise, and I’m psyched for part two.


Edit: I returned for part two a few weeks later. Although the day was shorter and less physically intensive, I’d say we still had a good day – it was a day for anything we wanted to do or redo the first time but couldn’t, we did on the second go.

*Note: for privacy reasons, I have used the Players’ character names only.

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.

September 14: And biiiig smiles right over here, guys! Yesss, fantastic! Lovely!

In the spring of 2017, I worked at – not to name any names – a certain mouse-based amusement park in Central Florida. (All the work I did there is proprietary anyway, so I have little to show for it besides my name tag and the remnants of a tan that lasted for longer than I’d have expected.)

It was certainly a very different job than I was expecting. Funnily enough, I was actually hired as a sports photographer at Wide World of Sports, but, as it happened, they had more need for photographers at Epcot than WWOS, so that became my de facto home base. 

The first part of PhotoPass training is learning to shoot the icons – Spaceship Earth (“the golf ball”), Cinderella Castle, the Tree of Life, etc. Once you’ve mastered those, you can move on to character training and The View, the photo center in each park. Working at The View was always the best assignment to get – it was generally quiet, air-conditioned, and pretty simple. Most of the time, guests just came in to find photos that didn’t attach to their Magic Bands – a very easy fix on our part. Working at The View, at any park, was a nice reprieve from… well, the bulk of the job.

Although I pride this website on being professional and positive, I will freely say that this job was… not a forever fit for me. It was certainly a learning experience, though: every single job I have had since working in Florida has involved skills or habits that were a regular part of my day-to-day job at the park.

Not to mention, the predictable-unpredictability of each day kept me on my toes. I had groups of all sorts, and I worked outdoors at least forty to fifty percent of the time. Large, drunk groups of adults, Make-A-Wish families, elderly couples, families with young children, non-native English speakers (I got to use my French on a number of occasions, which was fun!), guests with disabilities – Central Florida is honestly one of the most diverse places I’ve ever been. I had to adapt to all sorts of possibilities and requests in a variety of situations.

That said, from location to location, I tended to settle into a bit of a rhythm and a natural script. It usually went something like this: 

“Hi! Yeah, come right on over about fifteen feet in front of me!” 

Once they were in place: “Aaaaand big smiles right here! Keep holding, keep holding juuust like that! One, two, three… one, two, three…Fantastic! Can I scan your bands?” etc.

But since I disliked this element of the job so much, what I found ironic was that when I was called upon to literally do the exact same thing at Williamstown, it was one of the best parts of my job – something I would have volunteered to do even if it hadn’t been my responsibility. Despite the banality and repetitiveness implied by their name, the step-and-repeats were actually one of my favorite parts of the summer. 

It wasn’t exactly a red-carpet setup per se, because of space – our opening night Celebrations usually took place in our lobby, which meant I had to keep control of a relatively small amount of area as the volume constantly increased and as donors and audience members swarmed the celebrities (and me in the process.)

Doing this was actually half the fun. As mentioned in a previous post, one element of this job that I enjoyed was getting back into a managerial role after time away from one. Similarly, being able to have a space in which I (literally!) called the shots was nice. One of my friends later joked about this microcosm of authority: “So you would tell Matthew Broderick to do something, and he’d just do it! You had that power!”

I tended to revert to my PhotoPass script, because, honestly, if it ain’t broke… 

I would also usually throw in a few extra “yesss!” “lovely!” and “oh, fantastic!” and it got me the cheerful photos that I needed and helped everyone feel good – on both sides of the lens.

On Celebration nights, the step-and-repeats were my sole responsibility, and solely my responsibility. We had Sarah shoot with me early on, but we soon figured out it was more effective to have her shooting the event itself, for the sake of space. But it was nice that, while many other Festival staff had to run around keeping track of the actors and donors amidst the chaos, I only had one job to do and one space to be in.

Once I had finished the required photos for each show – the cast, the cast and creatives, the cast and creatives and the Artistic Director, etc. – it essentially became a free-for-all with all of the Festival staff who wanted photos. I found this to be useful for myself, because getting people to recognize me as The Photographer early on led to numerous benefits throughout the season: actors were more comfortable seeing me shooting their rehearsals and final dresses, apprentices stopped to ask me if I’d be shooting their events, etc. It was cool to learn the different personalities each cast or department had. It was fun to watch people have fun!

Most issues relating to the step-and-repeats tended to resolve themselves quickly, but there was one memorable occasion where I discovered that the flash head that I had had since London had corroded internally, making it unusable. I was stressing – hours before the the shoot itself – because I was debating if I should drive an hour each way to Albany to get an expensive, but familiar and guaranteed to work, Canon flash from Best Buy, or if I should take a chance and get a cheap off-brand flash head from the Walmart in the next town over. I went with the Walmart option – and the flash I got is not only just as effective as the more expensive one, it’s also significantly easier to use. 

(That said, we did, at most Celebrations, have theatre lights set up, for my benefit, but the issue was that they were tungsten, and the surrounding environment was largely wood, and I was, of course, shooting with flash – not an ideal combination, white-balance-wise!)

As a Festival tradition, each department gets to do a creative group photo for our playbill shell. (Shooting these and helping departments come up with ideas was actually my very first responsibility at the Festival.) Some examples:

  • CoMo (who oversees housing) posed in a pile of pillows
  • Props had me stand on a ladder to get an angled shot of them recreating the famous ”Lunch Atop a Skyscraper” photo
  • PTP, who are known for working very late, did a morning photo in which they were all
    collapsed upside down on the hill next to Goodrich with papers and empty pizza boxes surrounding them
  • Producing had Catherine sit in the middle working on her laptop with a serious expression while Lisa and Mike toasted champagne over her head
  • The Directing Interns held up light bulbs over their heads 

Our theme was the step-and-repeats themselves!

Last year’s Marketing team (which was then separate from Print and Graphics) decided to take a Polaroid of themselves, and the photo they submitted was a photo of that photo. We had a similar idea: we had our social media intern, Chris, take a group selfie of us, and our supervisor, Communications Manager Kate Hyde, took the photo of us taking the photo.

We look lovely! (Fantastic! Yesssss!)

[ETA: in the past, blogs I’ve posted and edited retroactively have appeared with their original posting date, but this went offline for a time, hence the incorrect date.]

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