Here is a youtube clip of Bare Witness by Mari Lourey, directed by Nadja Kostich. Bare Witness ran at fortyfivedownstairs from 10 - 26 September 2010.
I was always susceptible to liking Mari Lourey’s new play, Bare Witness. What with an interest in areas of conflict; that I’d just re-read Hare & Brent’s Pravda and an equally scathing depiction of journalism in a friend’s new play that is the glorious bastard child of Hare, Brent, Stoppard and Beckett; I was almost certain to be provoked. But where BW differs is that its focus is the corruption of the image, not words. Whereas the latter can be nimble and conjure the trick of “truth” in front of eyes — hearing how it’s done behind the by-line would deflate anyone insistent on objectivity — an image is supposed to be bare A camera is a witness, a machine that doesn’t need to decipher right from wrong. But this is not true either.
The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own. – Susan Sontag
A rare collaboration between two of Melbourne’s most important creative spaces, Mari Lourey’s Bare Witness is a joint presentation by La Mama Theatre and fortyfivedownstairs, in the latter organisation’s bunker-like venue beneath Flinders Lane. The space suits the work admirably, for Bare Witness is an expressionistic exploration of the experiences of a diverse group of photojournalists in three different war zones: Bosnia in the early 1990s, Timor Leste in the dark days before its independence from Indonesia, and contemporary Iraq.
The audience’s introduction to this blood, developing fluid and adrenaline-soaked world is Australian photographer Dani Hill (Daniela Farinacci), who in a short space of time goes from snapping hats and frocks at Flemington race course to photographing corpses and grieving widows in the Balkans. Years later, Dani looks back through her old photographs, recalling the stories behind the 11 most powerful shots; stories which are then played out for the audience, counting down slowly to the traumatic revelation behind the final, heartbreaking photograph.
When you see pictures of the casualties of war on the television news or in the newspapers, do you ever wonder about the person who took them? This special La Mama Theatre presentation in conjunction with fortyfive downstairs is about that person.
Bare Witness is an amazing dramatic collage describing the exhilaration, the horror, the outrage, the anguish and the dread hopelessness of combat-zone photography, fusing a compelling life story, expressive choreography, poetic visual effects, a complex moral dilemma and the best sound design of any production seen in Melbourne this year. It’s written by Mari Lourey and directed by Nadja Kostich, and it’s showing now at Melbourne’s Fortyfivedownstairs.
Without realising I pass into the zone of a dangerous place…
‘…to see truth, to capture it, to wing it home…landing on my doorstep wrapped in newsprint…tripping into the lounge room through the screen…No-one remembers how it works’
(Excerpt from The Aerodynamics of Death, Robyn Rowland)
Bare Witness by Mari Lourey explores this very idea by scrutinising and paying homage to the experiences of a group of photojournalists seen through the eyes of Australian correspondent Dani in the warzones of the Balkans, East Timor and Iraq. The story follows Dani from her beginnings in the field through to the aforementioned countries. She sets out to ‘capture the perfect image’ but it eventually all becomes too much for her and she realises she has to face the humanity staring at her through the lens. As Lourey states in the program notes she found herself asking why these people place themselves in such extraordinary and often dangerous situations for the sake of maybe one published image.
I’m loath to say this, for several reasons, but nevertheless: sometimes you have to point out the obvious. (In Ms TN’s case, pointing out the obvious is my raison d’etre). The City at Red Stitch and La Mama’s Bare Witness at Fortyfivedownstairs are productions which demonstrate that our indie women directors can be as ambitious, imaginative, intelligent, out-there theatrical and aesthetically tough as any man.
As in a flipbook, fragments of a life are animated, moving through the war-zones of Bosnia, East Timor and Iraq. The limits of the space, of this photojournalist’s life, are constructed and dismantled, along with the ethics and moral boundaries of the situations that she is thrust into. Flashes of light explode from cameras, bombs and light-boxes. A chorus of actors bends in and out of liminal spaces, dodging and re-assembling the shrapnel, like snap-shots, telling a multiplicity of stories and possible versions/takes. The live music score (by award winning Jethro Woodward) is relentless, but beautifully so, writing in a phraseology that departs from the single elements of the narrative and deepens the echoes of metaphor.
This piece comes from writer Mari Lourey, who comes to this piece via a music career, various arts projects, critically acclaimed Dirty Angels (La Mama 2003), and award winning The Bridge (Green Room and Vic Health Award, 2003).
THE camera never lies, according to the adage, but of course neither can it tell the whole story, because what is left out of the frame is often just as important as what is left in. This paradox is central to the ethical dilemmas faced by photojournalists working in war zones, who must constantly balance their own moral commitment to the truth with the media industry’s thirst for a graphic picture.
Bare Witness is Mari Lourey’s exploration of these contradictions, the pun in the show’s title drawing attention to how photojournalists can themselves become victims of a conflict, emotionally wounded by the images they ”shoot”.
The cultural influence of photojournalism on the battlefield has resulted in some life-changing images. Some, like the Associated Press’s Nick Ut’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a naked little girl running along a road immediately after a napalm attack during the Vietnam War – are defining images of a generation.
Controversy, too, has challenged the reputation for authenticity of both written and photographic journalism that has emerged from places to which few of us would dare travel – especially given the life and death stakes that exist in constantly unpredictable war zones. Renowned war photographer Robert Capa’s iconic “The Falling Solider” – a photograph of a ‘soldier at the moment of death’ – has long been the subject of controversy, with a Spanish newspaper declaring it a fake in 2009. Capa, who most memorably (and miraculously) photographed World War II’s D-Day Landings in 1944, also once wrote: “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” Ironically, Capa was killed by a landmine in 1954 while on assignment for Time-Life magazine covering the first Indochina War. He died, it has been reported, “with his camera in his hand”.
Bare Witness, by Mari Lourey, has been in development for many years and is a meticulously researched play. As a work of performance, it is wonderful, employing eloquent and dramatic theatrical devices, multi-media, and some terrific physicality where the actors turn themselves inside out to say the unsay-able. The play creates with authenticity and verve the fraught hyper-reality of the world of the foreign correspondent, often in peril, living an unholy and thrilling existence surrounded by horror, and all the while documenting it. The play gives us to understand how the war journalist is very nearly another sort of human being. Bravery exists in all sorts of guises but very few of us are required to demonstrate the sort of immediate courage required of a photojournalist in a war zone. It’s an extraordinary thing to bring to life in an inner-city theatre space this sort of atmosphere and tension and it is to the credit of the team involved in Bare Witness that it succeeds in this so well. The form of the play itself crosses boundaries; it is, as well as a drama, a work of choreography. The live music score adds to the frequent effect of breathlessness and numerous devices are brought into play to serve the world it is portraying. You can nearly smell tear gas, sweat and blood.
Mari Lourey’s newest play explores the life of the self appointed “eyes and ears” of the world, the photojournalist, writes Prue Bentley.
You could argue that the media is in an ugly place at the moment. Opinion journalism has ascended under the auspices of the 24 hour news cycle. Fact-averse, deadline-hungry news agencies are increasingly enslaved to the easy headline.
So, while words can be moulded to an agenda, there’s still a perception of purity in the undoctored, still image.
Mari Lourey‘s newest play Bare Witness tours the life of the self appointed “eyes and ears” of the world, the photojournalist; curious, disconnected individuals who go from conflict to conflict, seeking truth, justice and the next front page.
An article about Bare Witness from The Age. See it in its original context here.
A photographer’s frustration and exploitation is explored on the stage, writes Robin Usher.
PHOTO-JOURNALISTS risk their lives so people can see the ravages of war from the safety of their homes. Yet the paradox is that the photographers do not decide what people see, despite their battlefield exploits, and they can be left feeling frustrated and exploited.
This is one of the themes explored in the new play Bare Witness, by Mari Lourey, about frontline photographers that she has been researching for about six years. ”There have been other projects during that time but I was always thinking about this,” she says.
Bare Witness by Mari Lourey draws on the real life experiences of photo journalists and foreign correspondents in the Balkans, East Timor and Iraq, roles which have become increasingly dangerous, while their moral validity is increasingly questioned.
Without realising, I pass into the zone of a dangerous place…
Bare Witness, a new Australian play by Mari Lourey (Dirty Angels, The Bridge, Digging Into The Green Mountain, ) and directed by Nadja Kostich, will premiere at fortyfivedownstairs, as a special La Mama presentation, featuring a stellar cast including Isaac Drandic, Daniela Farinacci, Todd MacDonald, Adam McConvell and Maria Theodorakis.
Set in the Balkans, East Timor and Iraq, against the complex terrain of contemporary photojournalism, Bare Witness scrutinises the way we view our humanity – through the fragmenting lens of the media. Photographs, memories and dreams collide in a physical multi-media performance that follows a pack of complicated flawed characters who share the unbreakable bond of war journalists. Searching for the pieces of herself lost to years in the field, a young Australian woman is at a point when thrusting the camera between herself and her subjects ceases to protect her.