Research/Enquiry – Acting The Part: Photography as Theatre by Lori Pauli

Fig 1. Gregory Crewdson. Untitled. 2001

Theatre in Staged Photography

In her essay ‘The Artful Disposition: Theatricality, Cinema and Social Contemporary Context, Karen Henry describes how theatricality has been brought across in photography practices since its origins in the late 20th century.  Henry describes how staged photography requires aspects of theatre in order for the audience to absorb a narrative representation and also how theatre creates an effect that materialises an image as artificial.  The audience is able to understand when there is an existence of narrative in photography, however  despite this, a played out scene can still address the viewer indirectly.  I find Henry is making an interesting point on how representations of narrative can still reflect reality through a social approach.  For example, freeze frames in photography are used as a method of capturing relevant still moments of a live performance; Henry recognises how despite that the viewer knows the scene is ‘fake’, it still brings a truth of social experiences.

Henry then continues her essay comparing theatricality in art and photography in which she explains its contribution in the art movement Modernism in painting.  Henry describes to us how the developments of technology in association with photography and cinema have expanded how we represent narrative not only on a fictional level but also in a new documentary perspective that can show truth in culture. In ancient times, one would stand still for a painting in order for the artist to capture the exact definitions of the subject and this would be classed as tableaux.  However, now with revolving camera technology, staging has become used in a different sense where it can almost be seen as casual.

Henry gives strong emphasis on this and the characteristics of staged photography within this section ‘While painting could at one time indulge the idea of absorption in a coherent, cultural space, photography never could.  Photography was always partial and always included an audience..’ (L. Pauli. Acting the Part. p134 2006)

Here Henry is states that a photograph acts more as an interactive medium towards its audience more so than that of a painting.  As a traditional medium, painting is representative of subjects in a sense that the audience observes the scene where the viewer can tell the time period of which painting may have been produced.  However, with photography brings a perception to an audience that is timeless as the audience is given the opportunity to perceive the narrative in various alternatives.

I find Henry creates a flexible understanding of how narrative is brought across and performed in both traditional and modern mediums and reflecting upon this writing, I find this has influenced my conceptual understanding of how to address narrative in photography by including the audience as a participating factor.



I. Pauli. L et. al (2006) The Artful Disposition: Theatricality, Cinema and Social Contemporary Context In: Acting the Part – Photography as Theatre,  Ottawa, Ontario, Merrell Publishers, p. 133-138




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