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Focus on Stage Lighting: Faust

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This week’s post serves as a caption for the alternative image that the Library’s opening web page has been using when it highlights the Vandamm exhibition, Pioneering Poet of Light. Again, the web editors selected well, since the photograph of Faust illustrates the title so well.

Helen Chandler (Marguerite) and Douglas Montgomery (Valentine)., Digital ID 498846, New York Public Library

The Theatre Guild produced Faust in the Fall of 1928. The collective Guild presented classics and experimental new plays for a primarily subscription audience, generally with the same core group of performers, directors and designers. The Vandamms, after three years of photographing Guild productions shot Helen Chandler as Marguerite and Douglas Montgomery as her brother Valentine in a 2-dimension representation of the 3-dimensional lighting by Lee Simonson. This image (ID 498846) of Marguerite inhabiting the light and Valentine receding from the light is concurrently appropriate to the metaphor of the script and a spectacular theatrical effect.

I often write that the Vandamms attended rehearsals—and they always emphasized this aspect of their preparation. Image #498843 shows the full stage during a rehearsal. Visible left to right are designer Simonson (with sketch pad), Chandler, Montgomery, Dudley Diggs in costume (but not mask) as Mephistopheles, Helen Westley as Marthe and stage manager George Greenberg. If you crop out Simonson and the stage left half, you can see Chandler and Montgomery in their costumes and positions, but unlit and, therefore, undramatized. To reach the level of desperation shown in the key image, Chandler knelt down and lights isolated and dramatized her—shot down on her face and robe, reflecting up on his sleeve, but not face.

The images of Faust also represent a challenge of the Digital Library—they were made directly from the glass negatives. The Vandamm Theatrical Photograph Collection was acquired by the Billy Rose Theatre Division in 1962, after Florence Vandamm closed the Studio and she deliberated between BRTD and the Theatre Collection of the Museum of the City of New York. The prints and key sheets have been used for research and documentation ever since, but the fragile glass and acetate negatives have been difficult to access. The Library is now able to digitize directly from the glass negatives and, although some are faded, some reproduce with extraordinary clarity.

This Post Filed Under: Barbara Cohen-Stratyner (Author) Vandamm (Channel) Billy Rose Theatre Division New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center Related Blog Topics Photography Theatre

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