To see and be seen

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On my last visit to the V&A Museum with a friend, we chose to visit the Theatre Museum gallery as our last port of call. There was an exhibition of photographs by someone who must have had access to some of the UK’s leading theatres and it was a revelation to see some of the most memorable performers of 20th Century, rehearsing in their civvies.

The first photo that really struck me was of a ballerina on pointe, whose face was full of character. I was excited to discover that this was Margot Fonteyn, rehearsing one of the roles she was most famous for. Obviously, I was interested to see if there were any prints nearby of her regular dance partner – Rudolf Nureyev, and sure enough, there were several pictures of him at the zenith of his youthful virility. I am pleased to remember that I actually saw Nureyev on stage in the year before his demise.

With the emergence of mobile phone cameras and selfies, I wonder if the art of photography still has the capacity for capturing magical moments and personalities in the same way as it used to. I don’t think those artists were more talented than those of today, but somehow I find the images so much more riveting to look at. Is this perhaps due to an over saturation of visual images that people have access to nowadays?

I also wonder about the mystery of the past, and the fact that historical figures were only captured in photographs after the camera was invented. Does this give a special sort of status to those people who lived remarkable lives in an era when documentation on still or movie camera was a new development?

Where does the buzz of innovation and creative energy in documentation come from now? Will future generations look to Instagram as a major source of information about the times we live in at present?

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