A sold-out Concert Hall for one of the Wu-Tang Clan's four shows in December 2018. Image: Prudence Upton
The photographers who capture our performances
Sharing the stories from the other side of the lens
03 Jun 2020
Crowded House reuniting under the stars on the Forecourt. Lizzo whipping out her flute in the Concert Hall. Jannawi Dance Clan members proudly waving the Aboriginal flag atop the tallest sail on a clear morning. Stephen Hawking appearing via hologram and talking about One Direction.
These are just some of the moments at the Opera House that have made history. Maybe you were there, starry-eyed and with legs shaking, or maybe you heard the stories from your boyfriend’s brother. Sometimes, a photograph can do just as good a job.
We called on some of the photographers who have helped capture the remarkable performances on our stages and share them with the rest of the world. They told us about their favourite pictures, and how it felt being on the other side of the lens.
A sleeping audience in the Joan Sutherland Theatre Northern Foyer for Max Richter's performance of Sleep for Vivid LIVE 2016. Image: Prudence Upton
Max Richter’s Sleep
Joan Sutherland Theatre Northern Foyer, Vivid LIVE 2016
I had to shoot the beginning and end of this epic eight hour show and a dressing room had kindly been arranged for me to have a rest in between. I didn’t need the dressing room.
A cyclopean storm raged outside and it felt as though we could be swallowed up by the harbour. Had it been any other kind of concert this may have backfired but to Max’s serene hypnotic piano, the American Contemporary Musical Ensemble and soprano Grace Davidson, the storm seemed like the ultimate backing track.
I only took a handful of frames so as to not interfere too much with anyone’s experience but this shot of people sleeping on camp beds with the rain on the glass takes me straight back to that extraordinary night and makes me acutely aware of how lucky I am to be doing this job. By the time the sun came up and everything had calmed down outside, I don’t think anyone wanted it to end... except maybe Max, who must have been exhausted.
Florence Welch wades into the audience for Florence + The Machine's Forecourt performance in 2015. Image: Prudence Upton
Florence + The Machine
This was the second night of the Florence + the Machine Forecourt show. We were only supposed to shoot the first but it was a tad damp so I was asked to pop back and grab a shot of Florence Welch venturing into the crowd when everyone wasn’t wearing a poncho. Of course I was up for it as it meant I got to hear her sing live again… which you could never grow tired of.
Only problem was, we didn’t know exactly where she was going to head in the crowd and moving around wasn’t an option so I had to pick a spot and hope. Luckily I was just close enough to get a decent shot of her, but far enough away to also get the Opera House sails in the background.
Iggy Pop dancing on stage with audience members during his 2019 Concert Hall performance. Image: Prudence Upton
Concert Hall, 2019
Iggy Pop is well known for his wild onstage antics but at the ripe age of 72 I don’t think anyone was expecting him to get up to anything too crazy. When he encouraged a bunch of audience members to get up on stage with him there were a few nervous expressions on the faces of the Opera House staff. It’s not run-of-the-mill for the Concert Hall.
The crowd needed little encouragement though, and as many as could fit leapt onto the stage to get up close and personal with their hero. The Front of House staff managed it beautifully and by the look on the lucky audience members’ faces (and the amount of people who have since contacted me to see if they can get a copy of a pic for their pool room), I’m fairly confident it was a true highlight of 2019 for a couple hundred people.
Sinsa Jo Mansell and Niara Mansell from Tasmania perform at Dance Rites in 2018. Image: Wayne Quilliam
Dance Rites is an essential gathering. It ensures the stories of our ancestors are preserved for future generations. I could write an entire book on my favourite moments: the haunting sounds of Yidaki echoing off the sails into the night sky, reuniting with countrymen I haven’t seen for an eternity, the unadulterated joy of all the dancers celebrating the winners.
But the defining moment for me was seeing my own mob from Tasmania share our stories. It made me realise how sad I am not living on my own country, but also how grateful I am to the mainland communities for adopting me as one of their own.
Wu-Tang Clan ahead of their four Concert Hall appearances in 2018. Image: Daniel Boud
Concert Hall, 2018
Wu-Tang Clan in December 2018. I was sceptical that this shot would happen. Do you really think all the members will show up? On time? And stick around long enough? In the end it was an hour late, and I only got a minute with them, but it happened. All of the Wu-Tang Clan in front of the sails of the Sydney Opera House, celebrating their four shows in the Concert Hall.
Frank Woodley before the opening of his kids' show Noodlenut in the Playhouse in 2017. Image: Anna Kucera
Frank Woodley’s Noodlenut
Monumental Steps, 2017
I photographed Frank Woodley ahead of his first kid’s show called Noodlenut. We needed to convey a sense of fun but also highlight the location. He’s a master of turning on the humour with his subtle, yet complex range of facial expressions and body language.
We were shooting on the steps and all the elements seemed to come together – great light, barely any tourists and a fantastic subject who was keen to play up to the camera and have a laugh. Woodley danced across the steps, heavy in frame yet light on his toes, posing until we captured the most dynamic images. Although the pictures can't talk or make jokes, they speak to the audience through their visuals.
Ash Bolland's Lighting of the Sails for Vivid LIVE in 2017. Image: Yaya Stempler
Lighting of the Sails at Vivid LIVE
The whole Opera House, 2017
This time of year makes me think of Vivid LIVE when Sydney lights up and transforms its iconic buildings into artworks. I took this back in 2017 on the first day of Vivid Sydney festival. It was the first time I shot the sails of the Opera House as they were lit up.
I remember that special moment standing on the Broadwalk, waiting with anticipation among thousands of people. The sun was setting on the Opera House and the sails lit up for the first time that year with mesmerising artworks by Ash Bolland, inspired by plant life and the marine underworld.
An audience member awaits Three Little Pigs in the Playhouse in 2016. Image: Ken Leanfore
Three Little Pigs
The Sydney Opera House sometimes feels so easy to shoot as it looks incredible at every angle – the architecture of the building is so striking. However, here the building isn’t even in shot and embodies so much of what Sydney Opera House offers specifically for children and families. I also love the fact that moments like these are never planned so you always have to be on your toes when shooting at Sydney Opera House.
Skylar Benton from the cast of Blanc de Blanc Encore in the Studio in 2019. Image: Jacquie Manning
Blanc de Blanc Encore
Quite often when photographing events in the Sydney Opera House people are on their absolute best behaviour. The punters are dressed to the nines, theatres are pristine and performances polished.
All order and distinction was out the window during the Blanc de Blanc Encore cabaret show. Pillow fights trashed the floor and a feather-clad woman flew around above the crowd filling audience members' glasses with champagne as they frenzied underneath in a sea of bubbles. The disarming frivolity and raunchiness reminded everybody present to not take themselves too seriously – even at the Sydney Opera House.