Manuel Harlan Q&A
We don’t often think about the person behind the lens of a great image.
As associate artist at The Old Vic since 2015, it is down to Manuel Harlan to capture the magic of live theatre in a single image. He took over our social media channels to answer your questions about performing arts photography.
Q: How do you start to get into a career in theatre photography?
A: In all these niche areas of photography, like theatre, sport or architecture, the first thing is a real passion for that subject. I started as a performer but when that wasn’t going to work out, I asked myself how I could still be involved with my passion for theatre.
Photography proved to be the answer! To answer your question specifically, take photos of Fringe productions, often for free, to build a portfolio and more importantly, build relationships with young directors and follow their careers.
Q: Has there been a show which was a particular challenge to photograph?
A: A Christmas Carol was a real challenge because it’s staged in the round and the space is very difficult to get around quickly which inevitably means that as soon as you get to the right position the action turns away from you!
You really have to use all your powers of intuition and concentration to anticipate the action.
Q: How can I get into theatre photography? I know a few actors but they’re not the ones doing the booking, and big production companies have their photographers already… how to get a look in? Asking from Germany.
A: Try to do as many unpaid Fringe jobs as you can* in order to build your portfolio but more importantly to build relationships with young directors.
In this country theatres tend to ask directors who they want to do their production photography so it’s important to establish good relationships with them in the hope that when they get a break, they take you with them.
*I don’t mean unpaid work in a paid environment – I mean work where everyone is doing it for the love. Youth theatres, amateur dramatic societies, universities etc.
Q: What’s your favourite photo you’ve ever taken in a theatre?
A: I really like this one, mostly because I’d been told not to do it because I could potentially be seen, but I did it anyway. Being a bit naughty is often the key to getting interesting photos.
Q: Because there are so many photographers out there, even just within theatre industry, did you ever had low days full of self-doubt and how did you charge your self-belief batteries back then?
A: I constantly doubt myself – I think most people do, especially if they’re in quite lonely jobs like us. It’s very difficult – you get great highs when all’s going well and then feel very low when the work dries up.
I think you just have to remember that however you’re feeling now, it will change. And most of all, try not to compare yourself to others – easier said than done.
Q: As a soon-to-be-a-graduate of photography I was wondering if you ever considered having assistants?
A: A big part of my job is being as invisible and discreet, so I try to keep my presence as low profile as possible, which is why I prefer not to have an assistant.
Q: You take such amazing photos. I was just wondering what your favourite picture was when you photographed Glenda Jackson in King Lear last year a The Old Vic?
A: Thank you very much! That’s nice of you to say. I think my favourite was the one of Glenda and Rhys in the storm scene.