I was digging through my old boxes of negatives when I came across a photo essay I did way back in college 10 years ago. The essay was on an old movie theater we had in town called Normal Theater (the name of my college town was Normal, Illinois). It was an old fashioned theater with only one screen that played mostly classic movies that switched weekly. I shot this series during my Photo 3 class at a time when I had only been practicing photography for a few years. I remember this being our first open assignment in any photo class and I was excited to finally get to come up with my own project. While it was an open assignment, we couldn’t technically shoot whatever we wanted, our project had to have a theme and we had to run it by our professor first.
I originally got the idea to shoot a photo style essay after being inspired by the work of W. Eugene Smith and a series he did on a country doctor. For those who are unfamiliar with what a photo essay is it is story told solely through pictures. I remember when I was proposing my different ideas to the classmates and my teacher that there was a small part of me that was hoping no one would like the idea of doing a photo essay on the theater because I was secretly terrified of having to go and talk to the manager and propose my idea to her. I was very much an introvert back then. But of course when I was reading off my ideas of potential projects everyone agreed that the theater idea was my best, so I had to face my fear and get permission from the manager who turned out to be very nice and accommodating.
When I originally completed the essay and had it critiqued I learned I was trying to do too much. I had a mix of night and day shots. I had too many photos of unimportant or uninteresting things like the concession stand and people standing in line. Listening to my professor and fellow photography students I took their advice and trimmed down the essay. My idea was to tell a story of a night out at the movies, starting with walking up to the theater, purchasing a ticket, going into the lobby, making my way up to the seats and of course watching the movie. Finally after ten years I revised my work to do just that.
Revisiting this project made me realize how I miss doing these types of things in photography and has got me thinking about photo essays again. Look at the pics and let me know what you think. It is important to note that these were shot on film and at a very high ISO of 3200, which mean there is a lot of film grain in the pics, something I though would work well with the old fashioned theater.
If you are interested in checking our W. Eugene Smith’s Country Doctor photo essay you can see his photos here.
Click on each photo to enlarge