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Review: Bare Witness review in The Age

This review of Bare Witness was written by Martin Bell for The Age. See it in its original context here.

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”.

Lourey’s play follows the career of a naive young photographer Danny (Daniela Farinacci) as she jets off to one world hot spot after another: Ireland, Bosnia, the Middle East and, particularly, East Timor.

Each experience causes her to become more implicated in the stories she tries to tell, while also becoming more detached from her own life and humanity.

Nadia Kostich’s production is built on fluid and restless movement, much like its subject. It also draws attention to its theatrical devices, with Emma Valente constructing an arresting lighting system with hand-held spots and fluoros, and musician Jethro Woodward fashioning a moody soundtrack played live on stage.

All this highlights the way that images themselves are always fabricated to a degree, and that their creators are never merely objective observers or even voyeurs, but participants, for whom the lens works both ways. The production eschews the obvious visual motif of graphic war images, instead projecting footage of a lone wolf – the perfect metaphor for a creature both hunter and hunted.

As Danny, Farinacci conveys the suppressed tension of someone who is complicit and yet also an unwilling witness to the pain and suffering of others. Maria Theodorakis adds a fierce passion to the various scenarios.

While Bare Witness makes for an intelligent exploration of its material, the show nevertheless struggles to generate a real affective core, perhaps because of the sheer scope of what it attempts. The need to tell a personal story means that the various political stories, such as those in East Timor, are underdone. And the incidental details of professional life such as filing images and film versus digital, tend to obscure the quintessential moral story that the audience is seeking.

Image: photo by Marg Horwell.

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