info I contact
advertising
editorial schedule
acknowledgements
join the realtime email list
become a friend of realtime on facebook
follow realtime on twitter
donate

magazine  archive  features  rt profiler  realtimedance  mediaartarchive

contents

  
Hatch to Reach the Top of The Opera House Sails, Concert Hall, © Trent Parke, Please step quietly, everyone can hear you Hatch to Reach the Top of The Opera House Sails, Concert Hall, © Trent Parke, Please step quietly, everyone can hear you
images courtesy of Magnum Photo Agency and Stills Gallery
Untitled, © Trent Parke, Please step quietly, everyone can hear you Untitled, © Trent Parke, Please step quietly, everyone can hear you
images courtesy of Magnum Photo Agency and Stills Gallery
Backstage Playhouse, © Trent Parke, Please step quietly, everyone can hear you Backstage Playhouse, © Trent Parke, Please step quietly, everyone can hear you
mages courtesy of Magnum Photo Agency and Stills Gallery
WHILE THE WESTERN FOYER OF THE SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE WAS GOING THROUGH EXTENSIVE RENOVATION, FOR THE MOST PART IN LINE WITH JORN UTZON’S ORIGINAL VISION FOR THE BUILDING, MAGNUM PHOTOGRAPHER TRENT PARKE WAS PROWLING THE VAST BACKSTAGE, UNDERWORLD AND SAIL LOFTS OF THIS MODERNIST ARCHITECTURAL MASTERPIECE ON AN OPERA HOUSE COMMISSION TO SHOOT BEHIND THE SCENES.

What Parke reveals is gloriously at odds with the still pristine sheen of the building’s exterior. His images, large scale and intimate, could be taken for documentation of the backstage of an ageing Edwardian theatre or a war-time concrete bunker. The heightened sense of otherness that Parke typically conveys in his transformations of the everyday is achieved here in his stark delineation of objects freed of human agency and now regarded in their own right.

At the same time they represent traces of the lives, jobs and skills of technicians, cleaners, performers and other theatre artisans: their graffiti, photographic collections, movie posters, the tools of their trades—lights, trolleys, wig stands, makeup, a fake hand floating in a bucket of stage blood. Parke seduces us into considering the aesthetic power of huge clusters of power cord bundles, alarmingly knotted, snaking airconditioning ducts, battered powerboards, large chalked warnings (“No frigging smoking”), strange props (a suspended “angry” coconut alongside a banana), a fake fish on a plate, and a giant ‘head’, the back of which is labelled, “Pearl Fishers. Must be counterweighted.”

Save for the leg of someone disappearing into the concrete frame of the Opera House sails in one of the largest images, austerely black and white, we don’t actually encounter its inhabitants, even though their presence is felt. But there’s the ghostly aura of a theatre after dark, or abandoned—the last man fleeing. Simultaneously, with his eye for unexpected drama and defining colours (many reds amidst the blacks and deep blues) and surprising patterns (provided by cables, pipes and signage), Parke conveys a rich sense of life and flow, of cultural density and relentless purpose amidst the grit, low humour and affection felt in the movie poster collections and snaps of friends spilling off the walls of untidy offices and well-used dressing rooms.

Once again, Trent Parke has created an immersive world. In other hands and through other lenses this backstage might have been rendered banal or merely ironic or simply documentary. But Parke’s eye finds unexpected form, colour and drama in functional objects, demanding we look again and anew. Doubtless some critics will lament the absence of the human figure, but the bodies of opera house artisans of all kinds are everywhere inscribed in the building, their traces magically writ large. KG


Trent Parke, Please step quietly everyone can hear you, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Oct 28-Nov 28, www.stillsgallery.com.au; Sydney Opera House Forecourt, Oct 22-Feb, 2010, www.sydneyoperahouse.com

RealTime issue #94 Dec-Jan 2009 pg. 2-3

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Back to top