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Theatre photographer Ellie Kurttz has captured striking images for a number of Made at Curve production over recent years, including West Side Story, My Beautiful Laundrette and Memoirs of an Asian Football Casual. Since theatres across the world closed early in 2020, Ellie has creatively adapted her work to document people in the arts during this time in her ‘Portraits in Isolation’ series and so, when it came to remotely uniting our Curve Resident Creatives for a virtual photo shoot, we instantly knew Ellie was the person we needed behind the lens.
In this blog, Ellie explains how she reacted to the pandemic, how her ‘Portraits in Isolation’ series came about and how she approached the task of photographing our Curve Resident Creatives.
Theatre has always felt like an extended family to me and when all of sudden it was taken away, I strongly felt that I had to hold on to my craft and try somehow to keep creative in order to cope with all the stresses, sadness and uncertainties of living through a pandemic.
As a theatre photographer, I go from theatre to theatre, interacting with talented, brave, generous people, being exposed to creativity 24/7 and photographing amazing shows. The anticipation of watching a show for the first time is always thrilling and my main aim is always to create production images that truly reflect the show.
My life pre-Covid was a series of encounters with people that I admire, theatre-makers from all disciplines. When we went into our first lockdown the need for interaction with creative minds was stronger than ever. So, to continue creating and meeting people safely I had to adapt to the reality in which we were living. I looked around my home office and made a list of what was available for me at that moment in time, it read: Computer, internet, camera, time and friends’ kindness. Looking at the list I realised that I wanted to create a project that reflected the unusual times that we were/are living in by using the technology available. I created a project called “Portraits in Isolation”, where I invited friends and family to sit for me in their homes and I photographed them through my computer screen.
The process of taking photos remotely was new to me, I had never seen it before or known that it was possible, so like anything new in our lives we learn as we go. It did mimic taking a selfie but with the twist that the person had no control of when I was going to take the picture, as I had no control over the space we were in, the light, background etc. As neither of us had control we had to work as a team, collaborating for the shoot to happen. Everything around us also influenced the images – internet connection on both sides, devices available, wind, rain, 4G, 5G, connectivity of the video app that we were using etc. All these variants created unique images with a fragile quality to them.
With so much affecting the images, I concentrated on registering the moment and the technical quality of the images somehow felt unimportant considering all that we were living through. The reflections on my computer screen gave a dreamy quality to the photos. The fact that often I was the first outsider to get into the household, even if only digitally, added an intimate feeling to the portraits. The process of how the images were created and their imperfections reflected the very imperfect times in which we were/are living. The aim was never to create glossy images that didn’t reflect our reality during a pandemic but create images that were true to our moment.
When Curve commissioned me to create a series of portraits of the Curve Resident Creatives, I knew I would meet inspiring, fearless artists. And I was not disappointed! Meeting them virtually for the shoot and having a chat about their projects was the highlight of my day. The approach to the creation of the images was the same used in my personal project. The virtual photoshoot happened very organically with both sides collaborating, working together to create images that reflect their art. Their captivating, unique and inspiring personalities made the experience of shooting them unforgettable and I look forward to seeing the sensational work they will develop during their Curve Residency.
Exploring creative ways to adapt to these unprecedented times was crucial for me to continue working, but most importantly, it was a way to continue interacting and having a creative output. This process put me in contact with extraordinary people that perhaps otherwise I wouldn’t have met. A positive outcome all around.