For five years I have photographed 5th Avenue Theatre’s High School Musical Awards. Teens from all over are invited to this event and the sheer volume of thousands of teenagers in one building rivals a SpaceX takeoff! Most of the workers wear earplugs…and I’m not joking. My partner is assigned to photograph the event from inside of the house, while I’m assigned the backstage area….my favorite.
Before becoming a full time pro shooter I got into this whole thing to chronicle my daughter’s work as a stage crew member in high school. I had little money while raising two kids, so I went onto eBay and bought myself a Casio point and shoot. As I wandered around the backstage area I came to appreciate the work and passion the ‘crew’ has for putting together a production. Those jobs are far from the glamor of the footlights and follow spots. So because of that I have a real soft spot for the crew and those who make it possible for the talent in front of the curtain to pursue their passions.
The energy and excitement behind the scenes is infectious. I’ve been honored and blessed to be able to move around freely backstage. So many of the people who work BTS I now know having worked with each of them on different shows. One of the most moving things that happened to me that night was when David said to me in such a sincere and warm way “Mark, thank you so much for doing this for us.” I simply said “You’re welcome” but thought to myself that I should be thanking him for being instrumental in my ability to know all of these folks.
So here are some of my favorite photos from backstage during the 2017 HSMA’s. The two shots, one of the group and one of the young man who played in the Music Man were portraits I just had to create backstage. I had brought my one strobe to use prior to the event and at the end of the event. I just HAD to use it to light these kids for a portrait. I know all of the kids who attend the 5th’s HSMA will carry these wonderful memories for the rest of their lives. I know I will too.
For both of these portraits I told the kids “No smiling! Give me ATTITUDE like you give your folks! LOL! And you can tell them when they see the shots the photographer told you to do that.”
Gosh I guess it was about five years ago I was introduced to Savage as he likes to be called. I had done some work for Juan at Teatro ZinZanni who recommended me to Savage when he wanted to have his dance company photographed. Savage works for the Oakland School for the Arts and is also the Artistic Director for Savage Jazz Dance Company. When I first met Savage I was amused that he had a ring on every finger of both hands. Unlike me, he dresses well and is very fashionable. They were in rehearsal and so he pointed me to an adjacent room where the shoot was to take place.
One of the largest benefits of living a life full of experience is it allows one to gain self confidence. Experience brings with it lots of knowledge of human nature as well as an understanding that we are all alike in so many ways. We share the ups and downs of life, the successes and failures which are all a part of humanity, of our lives as brothers and sisters on this Earth.
In the 38 years before becoming a professional photographer my life was in the corporate world. And as I look back I’m a bit shocked at how many different careers I’ve had. Law enforcement, retail, security, energy, finance, brokerage, risk management, software and training are the major industries in which I’ve worked. I’ve held titles from part timer worker to COO of a Fortune 50 company and have had the chance to work with many different personalities and genders. What I found over that time, no matter what our status is in life; was we all breathe, pee, poop and put on our pants one leg at a time. The major differences are how we feel about ourselves and how we treat others.
David Allen Cooper, Principal Horn – Dallas Symphony Orchestra.
David commissioned me for a two day portrait session and although he resides in Dallas, TX he agreed to travel to San Francisco along with his manager to conduct the session. I was free to completely art direct his imagery. His only request is that they were different than traditional symphonic musician portraits and conveyed a younger more relevant look.
In late January 2014 I was contacted by Cristine Kelly, the Marketing Director for Music in the Mountains, a symphonic company nestled in the gorgeous foothills of Nevada City, CA. Cristine, or more accurately her husband had found my work while searching the web for his Christmas present from Cristine, a Fuji X100S. I had written a short article about using the Fuji in some of my commercial work. He saw the imagery I had created for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and yelled down to Cristine, “Honey, you need to look at this. I think this is the guy you’ve been searching for to shoot your Company!”
Cristine wanted her new Season Brochure to reflect the beauty of the surrounding area, so we discussed an on location shoot with costumes for the various performances her Company had planned for their upcoming season. Orchestras around the country are discovering that the ‘tried and true’ (I refer to that style as “Tired and Yawning”) photography, be it stock or shot for their specific needs, requires change to remain relevant. Rather than performance photos of musician’s clad in tuxedos and evening gowns, publicity imagery for music should reflect the emotion it conveys rather than what musician’s look like when they play. For most patrons, they know what they will see once they arrive. What they go for is for what they’ll experience and FEEL. Transmitting the feeling of an aural piece into something visual was my job.
Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s 2014-15 Season Brochure
In order to put an entire marketing campaign together it first takes vision. The Marketing VP at Dallas Symphony Orchestra had a very specific vision for his 2014-15 Season Brochure. His concept was to carry a “Date Night” theme throughout his brochure, creating an experience which would attract new as well as existing patrons. He also wanted a theatrical and dream like quality to the individual performances, one that matched each symphonic piece.
Keep in mind that whenever you’re hired to create commercial imagery there is quite a bit at stake. Beyond your own reputation, there’s the talent, scheduling, venue logistics, graphics gurus, administrative help, travel, blah, blah blah. And although an Art Director may have a specific shot they have in their own minds, it’s up to the photographer to execute that vision, one that often only exists in the AD’s mind.
I had the opportunity to photograph an emerging musician on location in Canada while it was snowing. Lit with a single speed light, ND filter enabled at ISO 200.
A month ago I got an email from the Marketing Director of Music in the Mountains, a symphonic group located in the Sierra Foothills. Cristine, their Marketing Director had found some of my work on the web and called to inquire about a project.
The way this came about is the real story. For Christmas she purchased her husband a Fuji X100S. Like all new users of any electronic device, he began searching the web for information about his new toy. He happened upon an article I wrote about using the X100S for commercial photography. After looking at some of my commercial images he yelled down to Cristine, “Hey Honey, you need to look at this guy’s work. I think he’s the shooter you’ve been looking for!”
So on the day of the session, she told me the story and said her husband Greg was going to stop by to meet me and watch some of the session. I asked her to text him and have him bring his X100S. Just before all the sessions were done I said to Cristine, “Hey we have hair, makeup and wardrobe here. Go have them put you in an outfit and have your hair and makeup done.” She simply said “WHY?!” I then told her that the best way for Greg to learn how to use his new camera was TO USE IT!
So she reluctantly muttered “I can’t believe you’re talking me into this” and trundled off to hair and makeup. While ‘the talent’ was getting ready I gave Greg a crash course in how to meter while using studio lights outdoors and how to adjust his camera. Like all talent, Cristine was late to ‘her shoot’ and I had to call down to hair and makeup to hurry things along.
She came out looking great and I could see a husband of 10 years looking at his wife in a new way! LOL! Anyway he began shooting and it was worth all the effort and convincing to watch both of them in action together. He got some great shots and I’m sure they had a great ‘date night’ later that evening.
Update: March 22, 2014. I am now able to release some of the final images and they can be seen here.
The VP of Marketing at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra is really shaking things up! Earlier this year I collaborated with the DSO’s Marketing Department to create imagery very different from what the Symphony has used in the past to promote their Beethoven Festival.
Bringing in new patrons is his goal and I’m proud to be part of the DSO’s new effort. Building excitement is well, exciting! Thinking and DOING what is ‘outside the box’ is both challenging as well as rewarding for us. There’s plenty more to come, stay tuned!
Mark Kitaoka Photographs has been contracted as the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s publicity and production photographer
Giuseppe Finzi – Resident Conductor, San Francisco Opera
On location portraiture session 2012 – Ocean Beach, San Francisco, CA
Mark Kitaoka Photographs has been named the production and publicity photographer for Stanford Symphony Orchestra
Teatro ZinZanni San Francisco’s production of On the Air
Duffy Bishop stars in On the Air
Elena Gatilova – Hoop Aerialist
Bernard Hazens – Juggler