Florin Ghioca is one of the most important Romanian photographers and the most famous theater photographer in Romania. Since 2014 he has been a staff photographer of the National Theater in Bucharest.
He has had several photography exhibitions, with openings in London (Sadler's Wells), Sarajevo (Preporod Gallery), Bucharest or in Chisinau, Republic of Moldova (at the National Theater). He has held several workshops and masterclasses in theater photography, being invited by the Academy of Music, Theater and Fine Arts in Chisinau, or by the VSLO International Festival of Visual Arts. He is also a journalist, theater critic and director, collaborator of several theaters and publications in Romania.
Love in Venice
What does it mean to be a theater photographer? Is it a real job?
Theatre photography is a real job, but more than that it is a way of living. It is one of the most difficult photographic genres, when you think about all its intricacies: dim lighting, almost non-existent at times; a lot of movement; scenes with multiple actors, wearing black, most of the times against a black background. It’s basically a photographer’s nightmare; but a good one, if you know how to make the best out of these circumstances and take that shot. But most of all, being a theatre photographer means being passionate to the point of obsession about theater, loving the actors and dedicating oneself to this work, which is so much more than just a push of a button, as some believe. It means knowing a show, knowing how to approach it through the camera lens and expose it to the world!
What does a day in the life of a theatre photographer look like?
It starts in the morning, photographing rehearsals, and ends late in the evening, often at night, after the shows are over when I review what I shot that day and make my selections. This adds up to thousands of photos every week that I take, review, and sometimes even have to post-process. When the photos need to go to print, or to newspapers or will be part of an exhibition, that’s when I will do some work on them. But otherwise, I am not a fan of processing: what I see through the lens when I take that shot should reflect in the image you the viewer gets to see. That is the truth.
Fly on stage
How do you approach a new show?
It starts with the director's first meeting with the actors, the so-called "first reading", which I always attend. I use this time to take the first portraits, get a sense of the mood, and see what the show is about. I go back later when the actors get up from the table and start moving around. It’s there in the rehearsal room that I notice the elements that interest me about: group scenes, individual scenes, potential portraits, emotional states that the actors might go through while in character. It’s my chance to get an overview of the show.
The third and final stage of preparations is when the whole rehearsal moves to the stage. That’s when costumes, scenery, lights, makeup, etc. come into play, and I understand what I need to do during the official shooting.
Knowing all the elements beforehand, I understand where I need to position myself in the room, how to move around to get the best angles. I have to ensure I cover the whole cast, because every actor is important, regardless of the part. It's my “moment of glory” when I know I must get the best photos. And most of the time, I only have once chance to shoot them correctly. But herein lies the skill of the photographer.
Jeremy Irons - Ashes to Ashes
You take a lot of pictures. What happens to them in the end?
After a show, I will look over the pictures and make a first selection. I need to make sure that my selection covers all the scenes in the show. When I choose the scenes, there needs to be at least one image for every moment of the show. I will discard somewhere around 100-200 photos. From what is left, I will make the final pick.
The Magic Light
How important is lighting design?
It is extremely important. It brings the image together. Let's not forget that photography comes from the Greek words: phōs, meaning light, and graphis, which means writing. It literally translates as „writing with light”. Light can make or break a scene, as a good lighting designer will decide what the public sees on stage. It is very important for a stage photographer to work closely with the lighting designer.
What does theatre have to gain from photography?
Theatre leverages images to create anticipation. Spectators want to get an idea of what they will see before they come to a play. Stage actors, as well, have the opportunity to show their work to the public through photographs. But above all else, photography contributes to our cultural memory. As productions discontinue, artists pass, photography builds the bridge between the present and the past.
What does theater photography mean to you?
It’s the joy of my everyday life. It’s a way of living. I’ve spent many days and nights in the theater, which is also why my phone’s been set to silent for the past seven years. The first rule in a theater is to turn off your phone. Theater photography is the most beautiful thing that has ever happened to me professionally. The fact that I can spend my days photographing all these wonderful actors is truly a privilege.
Check out more about Florin Ghioca on his website