This is the second play that I got to photograph at the Absolut Fringe festival last week. The show is called The Yellow Wallpaper and is a production by the Then This Theatre company, again taking place in Smock Alley Boys School. It’s an adaptation of a short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, originally published in 1892, and is about a woman confined to a room – a room that contains the yellow wallpaper of the title. The woman is played by Maeve Fitzgerald and the entire piece consists of a single one-hour long monologue. We are never quite sure why she is in this room and what has happened to her in the past. She may be suffering a mental breakdown; she may be the victim of a sadistic husband and a ruthless medical establishment; she may be suffering from post-natal depression; she may even be a ghost.
I had two big problems photographing this. The first one was that the only position that I could set up and shoot from was right at the top of the theatre. It’s a very tall space and so I was effectively shooting from above. I had to adjust the camera by dropping the front and raising the back as far as they would go, and even then I only just about managed to get most of the set into the shot. The second problem was that since it was an hour long piece with no pauses or breaks, I didn’t really have any choice other than to go for one single hour-long exposure. I wasn’t at all sure what aperture to set the lens to in order to not overexpose the film too much (I took a punt on f45 in the end) and wasn’t at all sure whether the actress would come out on the film at all, given the length of time the shutter was going to be open.
Amazingly, it worked. Firstly, the negative was not bright and overexposed as I thought it might be. I think there were two reasons for this. The set was very dark and the light levels overall were fairly dim throughout the piece. Also, I forgot that using such extreme camera movements cuts down on the amount of light that tends to make it from the lens through to the film plane anyway, so this probably compensated for the length of the exposure. Secondly, and perhaps more surprisingly, Maeve appears quite clearly in the picture. You can see her blurred figure sitting on a bench facing to the right. She spent quite a few minutes sitting there and was lit quite brightly so I suppose that explains that.
What’s more puzzling though are the multiple faint traces of her that appear to the left of the bed. I don’t remember her standing still for long enough to register so sharply. My usual explanation for this sort of thing is that someone was firing off a flash, and therefore freezing a faint impression of a moving figure onto the film, but there were no other photographers there and certainly no flash. I dunno, maybe she is a ghost.
This picture was published in issue 5 of Blow‘s Absolut Fringe on-line photography magazine. You can take a look by clicking on the image on the right.