2017 Volunteer of the Year Award
Interview by Anastasia Mortimer
On the 10th of June 2017, The Living Theatre hosted their annual trivia fundraiser event, with the theme this year being ‘The Mad Hatter’s Gothic Trivia Night.’ It has become a practice of the evening each year for Michelle St Anne, Artistic Director & CEO of LRT to announce the award for volunteer of the year – a prize given to a person who made significant contributions to LRT. Photographer and loyal supporter of LRT, Julie Samerski was awarded as the 2017 Volunteer of the Year.
Julie is a ‘child of the 50’s,’ who comes from a family of photographers. Her father was a Sydney street photographer during the 1940s who then took his family travelling with the ‘carnival people’, ‘on the Australian Show run’ up and down the east coast of NSW & Qld during the ‘50s & ‘60s.
Julie explains that when she started school, her parents settled in Charleville, Queensland where they opened a photographic studio. From here they were invited to every wedding, Bachelors & Spinsters Ball and Rodeo in a hundred-mile radius. Later when they moved to Lismore in Northern NSW, Julie still remembers the chemical smells wafting up from her Father’s Darkroom underneath their Queenslander.
Considering she is the daughter of a professional photographer, Julie came very late to the art through Instagram initially only using her mobile phone and is still getting her head around the intricacies of a real camera!
Below, I talk to Julie about her volunteering for LRT.
How did you start to photograph LRT productions, and what drew you to collaborate with them?
It was actually Michelle’s invitation to travel to a property near Goulburn to visit Kate Fenner and ‘Jazz’ the Horse that I first started to take LRT photos.
We experimented with the image of Michelle in the red coat with Jazz and Kate in the stable that eventually became the promotional postcard for “I Love Todd Sampson (Redux)”.
I am further drawn to Michelle’s plays due to the emphasis of ‘one thing leading to another’ whether because of human impacts on human relationships or the environment.
You have captured many LRT productions over the years. What was your favourite performance to photograph and why? What was the most difficult?
There have been multiple lost opportunities for epic images in many of LRT productions – It is the equivalent of the fisherman’s “The one that got away”.
The first shot I can remember being really chuffed with was a row of boots in the original production of ‘I Love Todd Sampson’ in the cavernous Walsh Bay Pier.
I wish I could visit that set again as I lament not capturing many gorgeous visions during that production and many others too. Most notable of those would be ‘She Only Barks at Night’. The use of light, dark and shadow provide the elements for wonderfully brooding and dramatic images.
The performance artworks by LRT feature content and themes that comment on challenging personal and social problems. How you capture the emotional undercurrents of these performances?
I was born in the early 50’s of parents who suffered greatly during the Depression and war years. Mum lost her Dad when she was 11, the eldest of four children.
My Dad had been sent off to Boarding School at only four years old.
The impact of these early sadnesses had considerable bearing on my upbringing. I think that is why I connect so completely with Michelle’s plays – this causes me to question what are the repercussions of historical happenings – and possibly the flow on through subsequent generations – I believe that most people and families have stories to tell.
Through LRT plays I have particularly appreciated the opportunity to capture the actor’s body language and facial expressions. The players have allowed the camera to capture the vulnerability of their characters.
Do you have a favourite image from the performance?
This is one of my favourite images from “Crows Invaded our Country”. The shaft of light playing with the mist around the silhouette is particularly intriguing I think.
What are the challenges and rewards of capturing live performance artworks?
Shooting movement in low light situations can be particularly challenging. Thankfully though, I have caught a few images where those elements have resulted in the final product being quite ethereal and mystical. These images seem to have captured the mood of LRT’s aesthetic.
Your support to LTR was recently recognised when you were named the 2017 Living Room Theatre Volunteer of the Year. What was it like to be recognised in this way by LRT and what has photographing LRT works meant for you?
It was a delightful surprise for me to be honoured as the 2017 LRT Volunteer of the Year!! I was a most embarrassed to shed a tear or ten during Michelle’s presentation on the night. Michelle has attracted an amazing group of very talented people to her projects, and I am humbled to be amongst them.
Being invited to photograph the artists at rehearsals and to bring some of my Instagram friends with me has been amazing. It is a learning experience for all of us.
What is particularly of interest to me is the different dimension that each photographer brings to the experience. I am constantly amazed at what each artist can ‘see’ and capture from the same scene, perhaps shooting from a different angle, adding filters or layering their images – each is an artwork in itself – even presenting an image in black and white rather than colour changes the depth, feel and focus.
You can connect with Julie and her photography on her Instagram @granjools