Boca del Lupo's Photog: An Imaginary Look at the Uncompromising Life of Thomas Smith, on at SFU Woodward's Studio T through Saturday as part of the PuSh Festival, is many things, all of them hybrid: it is documentary physical theatre; it is an illustrated lecture that doubles as a multi-media installation; it is solo storytelling mixed with collective indictment. However, I'm not sure these parts always add up to a satisfying whole.
Combining verbatim text from interviews conducted with conflict photographers with recorded and live video projection and Boca's trademark aerial work, Photog features company co-principal Jay Dodge as a world-weary photojournalist, home in New York, facing eviction from his apartment owing to the building's imminent redevelopment as a high-priced condo, and reminiscing about past assignments in conflict zones like Iraq, Liberia, and the Ivory Coast. As Dodge talks, corresponding images--some benign, some absolutely rending--appear on a rear screen. Often Dodge interacts with these images with the aid of live animation. Some of the effects are stunning, as when Dodge's face appears in the rear view mirror of his Iraqi driver's car. However, for all of the piece's technical virtuosity--and kudos to director Sherry J. Yoon and the entire crew for their combined wizardry--Photog did not compel in me the empathy it seemed designed to elicit.
There were two reasons for this. First, Dodge's performance is so placid, so contained and unhistrionic--even when describing a hair-raising escape from the Ivorian militia with five thousand dollars strapped to his body--that I did not get a vivid enough sense of the physical and emotional toil his work has taken on him. Second, the connection that the piece seeks to make, via the narrative of the condo redevelopment, between first world economic greed and third world human misery struck me as at once too oblique and too glib. I get and support making a connection through performance between global events and local audiences (heck, I've written a book on the subject, and it's a mantra included in the subtitle to this blog); but I think there are more subtle ways of implicating your audience than by simply turning the camera on them.