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Adrian Fish

"Adrian Fish" by Petra Halkes, Summer 2008, pp. 94-6

A theatre is a familiar space. Its basic structure of proscenium stage plus auditorium dates back to ancient Greece and was adopted throughout the world without many radical changes. The photographs of Adrian Fish’s “Staged” show us a series of familiar-looking theatres from an uncommon perspective: looking from the stage into the space of the audience to face rows of empty seats. This inversion of the usual viewpoint creates an uncanny feel, especially in the two large prints included in the show, which entice the viewer into the depicted space. In a photo identified as Stage 10–1—which Torontonians will recognize as the Princess of Wales Theatre—the luxurious plush red chairs, bathed in soft glowing light, begin to look like Venus flytraps.

Where the large-format prints generate a sense of entrapment, the smaller images—measuring 12 by 12 inches, generously matted and framed—offer a distance that allows for a more analytical contemplation. Fish fully exploits the square format and lack of distortion that his superwide-angle Hasselblad camera provides. In each photo, a single central vanishing point accentuates the sense of containment, playing up the theatre’s symmetrical structure and its boxiness as well as the artificiality of one-point perspective. You are in a privileged place, overlooking all that can be seen—that is, all that is contained in the theatre’s box.

Fish’s straightforward, objective point of view owes much to Bernd and Hilla Becher’s Düsseldorf school of topographical, documentary-style photography. Empty theatres have been photographed by Candida Höfer, one of Bernd Becher’s students. Fish, a young photographer born in Toronto and currently teaching at NSCAD University, appears to take Höfer’s work, as well as Lynne Cohen’s photos of empty institutional spaces, as a springboard. Judging from the works in “Staged,” Fish adheres to a more consistent point of view. He also follows a strict rule of photographing places exactly as he finds them. The absence of descriptive titles for the individual works underlines his interest in theatre spaces as signifiers of human power relations, hidden as they may be in the buildings’ glamour and beauty.

Adrian Fish

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