Carey on snapping up at the Hub

Nov 15 2011 | By More

Festival 2011: The Big Picture

Backstage during rehearsals of Peony Pavilion. Photograph by Eoin Carey © Edinburgh International Festival

By Thom Dibdin

An exhibition of behind-the-scenes photographs from the Edinburgh International Festival has just opened up at Edinburgh’s Hub, the Festival Centre up at the head of the Royal Mile.

They are taken by this year’s Festival Photographer, Eoin Carey, who had a hard act to follow in Claudine Quinn, whose exhibition of pictures from EIF 2010 was featured in the Annals here.

Carey’s exhibition gives an enthusiastic account of EIF 2011, documenting the behind-the-scenes events with an eye for the personality of the performers. The 25 year-old, originally from Cork in Ireland, came to the post straight from finishing a two year HND in photography at Stevenson College, preceded by a masters in film studies.

Having seen many of the images on the EIF flickr pages, it is fascinating to see his prints in the flesh. They are often very different from the raw photographs (used to illustrate this page) and, in a neat move, they come framed in pairs allowing a much richer understanding of the events.

Peony Pavilion in full flight. Photograph by Eoin Carey © Edinburgh International Festival

Speaking to Carey at the launch, he was slightly diffident about the differences. “You always feel a little bit vulnerable when you know the original images, the raws, are still out there for people to see,” he admitted, adding that displaying pairs of photographs was partly a bi-product of the sheer number of photographs taken.

He explains: “Not only do we have so much footage, but there were so many little stories that went untold. So unless we paired stuff up like this there would be no chance to tell them. A single image is very strong but I think that in something like the Peony Pavilion shots, there is a relationship in the two frames. So it was a bigger thing, there was a synergy about it.

“It kind of unmasks the great prestige of the ballet. I think that the ballet is the most prestigious of all the acts you get to see on stage. It is such a joy to have been to unmask it, to lift the lid and actually peer in, put my head in with my camera attached to it and have a good look in where people behind the scenes have to work really hard to give it the polish that it actually has on the evening. And they are ordinary people that do it.”

Three tons of fireworks

Before each performance the Kridha Mardhawa Gamelan Orchestra from Java present an offering at the back of teh stage among the larger gongs. Photograph by Eoin Carey © Edinburgh International Festival

Carey was a constant at all the standard media events, pacing around in the background looking for a unique shot. The joy of his post, however, is that he is able to go off piste – to take pictures in places to which most media do not have access. So what was his most exciting adventure?

“Apart from running full tint in the rain up and down the High Street?” he laughs. “It has to be the arrival of the fireworks. The team in the fireworks picked me up outside Edinburgh Castle – on the Esplanade – and I hopped into their own silver van and they drove me through the secret underpass of the Castle into where they were setting up for the week.

“It was only after I got back out of the van that they told me I had been sitting on about three tonnes of fireworks while I drove in – it was a nerve-wracking thing retrospectively. The whole setting up of the fireworks was phenomenal. A whole week of watching them go about their daily thing with a monstrous amount of power, of colour of performance, ready to be unleashed. Just ready to get set off. So  I think the fireworks was the top of the pile for me.”

Jonathan Mills steals a tranquil moment with the score during rehearsals of the opening concert. Photograph by Eoin Carey © Edinburgh International Festival

Recalling his experiences, Carey has the excitement of a child with tin of unknown sweeties. Unwrapping them seems to have been at least half the fun. Particularly for The Tempest from Korea’s Mokwha Repertory Company, the first show he started work on, and which is represented in the Hub exhibition by a picture of the artistic director and choreographer fast asleep in the stalls of the King’s Theatre.

“They were here for four days and I just accumulated a lot of time with them, on and off the stage,” he says. “I had seen them out on the street, and I spoke no Korean and they weren’t up for speaking English at all, but they let me have such clear access. They let me walk in – I don’t think like any show did after that. I was able to wander into their wardrobe, I was able to come into their dressing rooms and they wouldn’t bat an eyelid. I was there backstage during the last performance, I was there backstage during the rehearsals, I ended up getting a lot of photos of them. They were friendly, humble and welcoming and that totally rubbed off on me.”

Great access – and snapping many photographs – does not necessarily create a great exhibition. For that, you need to find something hidden and bring it out – reveal the truths of your subjects which are hidden in plain sight. Then you can be truly proud of your work. So, of which of the 70 or so pictures on the walls of the Hub is Carey most proud? His answer provides both an insight to both his own personality and that of the EIF Artistic Director, Jonathan Mills.

Debaucherous lad, out on the town

EIF artistic director Jonathan Mills with choreographer Eun-Me Ahn. Photograph by Eoin Carey © Edinburgh International Festival

“In a way that delicious photo of Jonathan Mills and Eun-Me Ahn. I have had the luxury of taking a lot of pictures of him and I have seen a lot of pictures taken of him – and a lot of pictures are taken of him. But I think none with such a divine insight into his true character of a debaucherous lad out on the town having a good time. He has usually got quite a pristine exterior – as is required – but that was really good fun and he has been really open about letting us use it and having it out there. I think that is his character as well, that is fantastic. I love the little bit of wry humour that comes with it.”

It wasn’t all plain sailing, however. International performing artistes can be a temperamental lot – particularly when everything is not going exactly according to their liking. As happened for the last opera of the Festival, Mariinsky Opera’s Die Frau ohne Schatten, for which he hardly managed to get any photographs at all.

“They were quite reluctant to let photographers in,” he says. “There were hold-ups with the show so schedules were moved on and the thing nearly went completely by me without getting any pictures. That was a challenge. I did manage to get in for a section of the media call – and they allowed me in backstage at the very last minute so I got photos of the backstage. I don’t think that there was anything that completely stumped me but that was a bit of a challenge and it was a bit of a stress as well.”

Eoin Carey as his subjects see him

Eoin Carey as his subjects see him. Photograph © Thom Dibdin

The whole purpose of the Festival Photographer is to capture the essence of the EIF that isn’t seen on stage, to find the story behind the glossy publicity shots. Of course those shots are there to be taken, at the regular media calls, but which aspect is it that Carey has most enjoyed capturing: the artist in action, or the artist relaxing?

“Relaxing, I think,” he says. “I say that, but if there was nothing else I think it would get a bit dull. But I like it because it is so unexpected and it is quite sacredly protected. There is a whole backstage area that is completely walled off so it is the privilege of it that I enjoy. There were so many actors I didn’t get to see relax, and so many that I wasn’t privileged to see because it is protected, because it is like a sacred space back there.

“I would much rather photograph the human element, the very human nature – which generates into the performance actually, which generates onto the stage. You can’t have the one without the other, but I do prefer the relaxation.”

And what of Carey himself? The post of Festival Photographer – and the exhibition – is supported by the Morton Charitable Trust and is chosen from entries submitted by “talented emerging photographers from across Scotland”. His pictures have given the EIF a good body of reportage of their 2011 festival. Has it been of benefit to him?

“Yes,” he says. “But the funny thing is that I have no way of calculating the extent to which the doors have opened. I have made some great great contacts but things are coming out of the blue. This sort of exposure is unparallelled to someone who has just recently graduated. People are seeing my name and seeing the photos attached to them so it is a great little reportage of work in a fantastic exhibition space.”

Festival 2011: The Big Picture is at the Hub, Castle Hill, Edinburgh. The exhibition is open daily from 9.30am-6.00pm and admission is free.

Further details on the EIF Website:


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