Red velvet surrounds an aperture through which a single eye appears.
This is not the inside of a camera, but London’s St. James theater where Exposure The Musical — Life Through A Lens transformed the space this summer into a velvet light trap reminiscent of the pinhole cameras of the 1880s and projected a backdrop of hundreds of Getty Images photographs, immersing the audience in photographic history.
Through this frame, we understand the plight of the musical’s main character Jimmy, a photojournalist who makes a pact with the devil—a media mogul—and becomes a paparazzo, tasked with capturing the seven deadly sins on camera around London.
“The whole journey of the show explores the morality of photography,” Mike Dyer, the show’s creator said. “It’s about testing if a photograph should be taken and to what limits.”
The Getty Images photographs in the backdrop create the world that the show exists in.
“We’re using photographs to evoke location rather than using conventional scenery,” said Timothy Bird, the production’s video designer. “But more than that, we’re using photographs to tell a story in a unique way.”
The contemporary conflict photojournalism of Getty Images photographer John Moore substantiates the protagonist’s inner turmoil in one early scene; in another, iconic portraits and performance shots of artists like Janis Joplin and Elvis Presley evoke the sense of public loss when a widely beloved artist dies.
“There’s so much power in imagery,“ Dyer said. “Using these images to set the scene show how impactful an image can be if it’s used in the right context and in the right place.”
Dyer has felt the emotional power of photography in his own life and has chosen to channel this connection through music. While his father was dying, Dyer found himself writing songs inspired by the power of a family photo album. He received affirmation that photo-inspired music could speak to people, especially when paired with exceptional photography at an event he attended showcasing the work of Getty Images Reportage photojournalist Tom Stoddart. Dyer noticed that Stoddart’s images really started to catch guests’ attention when the photographer turned on a Snow Patrol song.
“Nobody ate a single thing from that moment onwards,” Dyer says. “I couldn’t believe how powerful it was and I thought if you can do that with one image and a piece of music, the sky’s the limit.”
Armed with Getty Images’ archive, Dyer’s confident in using photography as a subject and as a medium to distill the emotion he hopes to evoke from the audience. Let the curtain rise as the shutter clicks.