Wednesday, September 26, 2012

VIDEO | In Conversation with Alan Cumming, Rivka S. Katvan and Tom Viola


NEW YORK CITY  |   It started out as an idea.  What if we organized a panel discussion in which the photographer, the people she photographed and the gentleman who gave unique access to this photographer to do some of her best work all came together for a panel discussion?  We admire great photography. But we do not always get to have the unique opportunity of sharing in a public setting what made those photographs so great?

In late August, Rivka S. Katvan, the great photographer with whom I have collaborated over the years, told me that she had an exhibition of her Broadway photography being installed at the Soho Photo Gallery in New York City in the month of October.  She titled the exhibition "Broadway Behind the Curtain," and it runs through the month of September. As always, the exhibition is a benefit to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, which fund-raises for critically needed services for people living with HIV/AIDS and their families nationwide.

From the first moment I set eyes on her fine-art photography work in the late 1990s, I knew I wanted to feature her work in the publications that I worked for.  I also dreamed of somehow working with her as well; it was always a question of how.

In the beginning I approached her work as a journalist and critic might. I wrote about her. I championed her work in the publications I worked for.  It was not very difficult, as Tom Viola stated at our September 12 panel discussion.  All he had to do was take a look at her portfolio, and he was impressed.  So was I.

New York City is overrun with celebrity spotters and mediocre hacks producing run-of-the-mill theater photography.  Katvan's backstage portraits of famous people like Carol Burnett, Stephen Sondheim, Harold Prince, Angela Lansbury, Liam Neeson, Kevin Kline and Gregory Hines caught my eye because of their startling originality.  Her series of portraits of Alan Cumming (there are three on view at Soho Photo Gallery: two from Cabaret and one from Three Penny Opera, all Roundabout Theater Company productions) absolutely caught the actor's theatrical essence.

Eventually Katvan and I did collaborate. More than twice, I featured her unique photographs on the cover of American Theatre magazine. We worked on a series of portraits of playwrights.  When it came time to prepare a fall preview issue about the dominance of women playwrights in an upcoming season, there was no question that I would ask Katvan to shoot Lynn Nottage, Sarah Ruhl and Theresa Rebeck together. I sent her to Sing Sing prison. When the deeply talented writer Pamela Renner was interested in covering a production of Oedipus Rex featuring locked-up inmates, I told her that I know this incredible photographer who should, must, absolutely accompany her inside the prison and take photographs.

At the September 12 public conversation with Cumming and Viola, I learned from Katvan that one of the inmates she photographed in that Oedipus Rex production turned out to be innocent of the charges he was sent to jail for. It was an incredible story. It was just one of the many incredible stories she told at Soho Photo Galley in New York City. If you missed our very successful evening, I've posted above a video that samples from our conversation, which ranged from Rivka's approach to fine-art photography, Cumming's thoughts about Broadway theater and Viola's stewardship of BC/EFA. -- rg


Rivka S. Katvan, Alan Cumming, Tom Viola and me

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