Portraying Function: From Academic to Dramatic

The O’Reilly Theater in Pittsburgh, PA is a beautiful public theater designed by Michael Graves Architecture & Design. The theater is modern and comfortable, and every seat in the house offers great views of the action on stage.

Main auditorium entrance, O'Reilly Theater - Pittsburgh, PA - Michael Graves Architecture & Design

Inside the lobby, O'Reilly Theater - Pittsburgh, PA - Michael Graves Architecture & Design

These photographs of the lobby and lounge areas show some of the architectural features Graves built into the structure. Inside the theater itself, the curves and the use of wood continue throughout the space to create a warm, comfortable environment in which to enjoy a play. The challenge I had was to portray this space differently from the way other photographers had captured it.

Lounge Area, O'Reilly Theater - Pittsburgh, PA - Michael Graves Architecture & Design

The theater staff told me that when the inside of the theater had been photographed in the past, the images always had an “academic” look to them. They wanted something more “editorial.” At first I wasn’t sure what they meant, but when I made my first photographs inside the theater, I started to understand. The photographs made the space feel a little clinical. It could have been a lecture hall at a university--it had that “academic” feel to it. There was nothing in the photographs that portrayed a sense of the drama that takes place within those walls. They wanted me to make something more “editorial.” So the challenge I gave myself was to use my photography to transform the space from an academic location to a dramatic location. That would be my editorial interpretation of it.

The best tool we have for creating drama in a photograph is light. I used a combination of multiple ambient exposures and exposures with supplemental lighting to provide me the raw materials I needed to create an atmosphere of drama in the room. I later blended these images together to realize that vision of drama. I was careful not to take any technique too far because I did not want the quality of the photographs to degrade. Fortunately I captured enough of a range of material in camera that this was mostly an exercise in blending, which maintains the quality and integrity of the photograph. Here is one of the photographs I produced.

Main auditorium, O'Reilly Theater - Pittsburgh, PA - Michael Graves Architecture & Design

The theater was very happy with my photographs. No photographer had captured the space in this way before.

In my architectural photography, I always try to be accurate and true to the architect’s and designer’s intent. In this case, with some direction from the theater, I believe I succeeded. The space was designed as a location where dramatic performance takes place. My photographs show how the audience will feel as though they are a part of that drama.