As part of our ongoing 20 by 2020 series profiling Atlanta theater artists, we occasionally look at theater through the eyes of the photographer. This is another in that part of the series. We’ve already profiled Chris Bartelski, Casey Gardner, BreeAnne Clowdus and Greg Mooney. The photographs below and in the slide show are some of Jerry Siegel’s favorites, and ours.
Jerry Siegel is a fine-art photographer who began shooting for the theater in 2005, when stepson Jeff Hathcoat was onstage at Pace Academy. He’s shot every production at Synchronicity Theatre for the past three seasons and recently picked up a couple of gigs at Theatrical Outfit (production photos for Safety Net, which closes Sunday, and shots of exiting artistic director Tom Key and successor Matt Torney).
Siegel, 61, makes his living on the fine-art side of the lens, however, shooting throughout the South and particularly in and around his hometown of Selma, Alabama. His photographs are in public, private and corporate collections, including the High Museum of Art, the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens and Alabama’s Birmingham Museum of Art, among others. He’s had shows in Georgia — Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus and Savannah; in Alabama — Auburn, Mobile and Montgomery; and in New Orleans.
He’s done two books — Facing South: Portraits of Southern Artists (2012) and Black Belt Color (2017), which documents the unique, cultural landscape of the South, particularly Alabama’s Black Belt region. In fall 2018, he did a series titled Reveal, which looked at Atlanta drag queens before, during and after their transformations.
These days, he’s taking a new look at his Black Belt work and prepping for a group show titled Now & Then, which opens November 14 at Mason Fine Art. It looks at what was happening in Selma in 1965 — the year of the Bloody Sunday March across the Edmund Pettus Bridge — compared to what’s happening today.
Siegel moved to Atlanta in 1980 to attend the Art Institute of Atlanta and never left. Today, the self-professed theater nerd talks about shooting for the stage.
ArtsATL: What do you like about photographing theater?
Jerry Siegel: The community. I like seeing productions come together. I love the art form in general and getting to see behind the scenes — what the directors do, how actors prepare.
ArtsATL: How do you prepare?
Siegel: I always make sure I see a tech dress rehearsal so I have a feeling for what the show is, where the actors are going to be. I like to pick my spots . . . if the lighting is great . . . if there’s a moment of great intensity. I like to move around. I never sit in a seat.
ArtsATL: What makes a good theater photographer?
Siegel: Preparation. One PR person asked me if I had shot for sports, and I did. [He photographed the Atlanta Hawks for 15 years.] This person said sports photographers make good theater photographers because they anticipate.
ArtsATL: How challenging is it to get the good shots?
Siegel: It depends on the show and the direction, and it depends on the lighting design. A lot of shows look great to the viewer, but they don’t translate as well to the still image. I’m very often surprised by the images.
ArtsATL: What are your favorite shows as a photographer?
Siegel: Eclipsed [Synchronicity, 2017]. Nell Gwynn [Synchronicity, 2018]. They were both beautiful shows. Also, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane [Synchronicity, also 2018].
ArtsATL: How would you describe your style as a theater photographer?
Siegel: I didn’t know there was a style to theater photography. I much prefer to capture the action, although sometimes it’s necessary to pick up the shot after the scene. But in my opinion, you never get the same intensity and emotion as when you capture it live. It’s just a fun thing to do. I love theater and being behind the scenes, snafus and how it all miraculously comes together on opening night.
ArtsATL: What’s next for you at the theater?
Siegel: Ella Enchanted [December 13–January 5 at Synchronicity]. We just finished promos, and the costumes look great.
Full disclosure: Senior editor Kathy Janich is an artistic associate at Synchronicity Theatre.