Arts Centre Melbourne and the Australian Performing Arts Collection have delivered another captivating online exhibition titled Framing the Stage: The art of performance photography in collaboration with one of Australia’s leading performance photographers Jeff Busby.

By exploring highlights from the rich photographic holdings of Arts Centre Melbourne’s Australian Performing Arts Collection, together with some favourites from his own archive, Busby gives us insight into both the art of photography and the world of the performing arts.

“I thought an important factor in this project was how we were able to cross through time and find a commonality in what these images are trying to tell us,” said Jeff Busby.

“One of the most fascinating aspects was looking at the Australian Performing Arts Collection and the historic sweep of their work and being shown how performance photography has followed the progression of the performing arts in Australia.”

Framing the Stage was developed during Victoria’s second-wave lockdown in 2020 and opened up a dialogue between Busby and the Assistant Curator for the Australian Performing Arts Collection Ian Jackson. Exploring the archive together, they uncovered a number of special moments from Australia’s performing arts history.  

“At a time when live performance has been limited, we wanted to remind people of what is so exciting and compelling about the performing arts. Performance photography is like capturing lightning in a bottle, the photographer needs to capture a performer, their role, and the feel of the production, all within a single image,” said Jackson.  

“The Australian Performing Arts Collection has a wealth of amazing photographs, covering more than a hundred years of ballet, circus, dance, theatre and opera. We knew that a practising performance photographer like Jeff would bring new insights to them, based on his many years of experience.”

“We wanted to take our audiences backstage and behind the camera to see his work – and the photographs in the collection – through his eyes.”

The project has resulted in a robustly curated exploration of photographic images, styles and history, combined with unique insights from Busby.   

“I found it an extremely rewarding process and allowed me to reflect in a way I perhaps hadn’t been able to until recently. In particular, delving into the collection and opening up a whole gamut of thoughts and how the photos over time have fit into the bigger picture,” said Busby.

“These moments only happened once, and through these moments, with layering and attention you are able to capture a moment in time which reflects a complex matrix of performance. We’ve managed to uncover and present photos that entice, entertain and have a timeless quality to them.”

Online exhibitions have been an incredibly successful initiative for the Australian Performing Arts Collection, allowing audiences all over the world unprecedented access to this rare trove of objects. Framing the Stage adds to the developing wealth of knowledge available through their online portal.

You can access Framing the Stage and other exhibitions here.

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