“Metaphor is bullshit.”
How do you create an authentic moment? How do you invent something out of nothing? How do you find truth with your camera when all you have is a model, a white backdrop and some cocktails?
James Stenhouse’s photographer welcomes us to his studio. He wants us to relax. He offers us a beer. He doesn’t want anyone to feel any pressure, especially not his model. Gemma Paintin is his model, his subject and someone who wants him to work miracles.
From the opening minutes of this play by UK company Action Hero, currently in residence at Arts House in North Melbourne, we can feel the power imbalance. The photographer has the audience on his side. If we’re not glancing at him, finding him at his makeshift cocktail bar or at his seat in the audience, we’re only staring at her. He’s subject and she is object.
The model, who needs a memorable photograph, a transformative album cover, acts like she is only there out of obligation. This might make her a star, but it’s also a chore. He’s trying to create magic and she’s pushing back. What is she to do with this pineapple? Is she really lying on a beach? What’s with this ice cream that doesn’t drip?
She rebels and we can see why. The photographer, for all his vision, lacks perception. He is treating her like a prop in her own photoshoot. A warm body who moves to his own amusement. And slowly the power shifts. Back and forth. Back and forth.
Wrecking Ball is a carefully drawn satire on creativity and commercialism. It’s also a fascinating commentary on objectification; when we stare at a celebrity in a perfectly posed photograph, are we seeing them or a thing the photographer has created?
Much of this play centres on how much we, as an audience, are willing to suspend our disbelief. The mounting tension between the photographer and the model, as he tempts her into more and more ridiculous scenarios, is palpable. And hilarious.
We all like to take photographs to capture moments. And we’re thrilled when we get the frame right and the light. Wrecking Ball swings wildly and smashes into the pretensions of trying to create something out of nothing. Of thinking capturing objects is enough and forgetting that the subject is the key.
A remarkable, insightful play about imagery and image.