Interview: Paul Hodson, Still

Ahead of the opening of Still in March, a new play that explores the extraordinary life of Vivian Maier and issues around privacy and secrecy, Miniclick spoke to the writer and director, Paul Hodson. Still is on at The Old Market, Brighton on Wednesday, 1st March at 7.30, and Thursday 2nd March 6.30 and 8.30. Miniclick folk can get concession priced tickets by using the code PHOTO17 at checkout. You can book tickets here.

Copyright Jim Stephenson 2017.

Could you give us a short introduction to Still?

It’s a play about Vivian Maier, photography and privacy. I’m sure most of your audience will be aware of Maier, the so-called “Nanny Photographer”, whose work was only discovered after her death (the majority of her rolls of film undeveloped) and who now is being hailed by many as one of the best street photographers of the 20th Century. The performance is in a ‘gallery type’ setting – the audience walk around to view photographs and the scenes.

When did you first become aware of Vivienne Maier’s story?

A friend told me about the BBC documentary when it was broadcast in the summer of 2013, I think. My interest was aroused and I started to try and find out more – at a time when there wasn’t much information around. There were a few things in the press about her, John Maloof’s film came out later that year and I went to Paris to see two very small exhibitions of her work. 

I suppose there must have been a great deal of research into her life needed, as you were planning and developing Still?

I think I’ve tracked down and consumed everything written about her – which still isn’t a great amount. New discoveries are being made all the time – and new information was always influencing the ideas for the show as it developed and I guess will do as the show tours. Maier’s photographs were probably the greatest source of ‘research’; I think we learnt as much about her from what she choose to photograph, how and where, as we did the (slim) facts and figures about her life. John Maloof owns the vast majority of her work, which includes film and audio recordings; the latter were invaluable to some sort of understanding as to who she was. But it became clear that there would be gaps in our knowledge of Maier’s life and we probably will never know exactly ‘who she was’; but instead of that being a problem, somehow I found that interesting and exciting. It was the notion of ‘privacy’ that caught me: she was a very private person- so should we be invading that privacy after her death? However, didn’t she, as street photographers do, invade people’s privacy all the time taking pictures of people unawares? 

Copyright Jim Stephenson 2017.

What qualities were you looking for in the actress cast to play Vivienne, given that we know so little about her in real life?

The actress Beth Fitzgerald and I came across Maier’s story and have developed the ideas for the show together over the last couple of years. As became clear we couldn’t do, nor did we want to do, a ‘bio-pic’ show about her life. (I bet there will be a Hollywood movie about Maier in the pipeline soon… starring Meryl Streep??) We learnt something about how Maier looked (from her many self portraits as well as personal comments), how she walked and, from her tape recordings, how she spoke – in a unique way! She sounds kind of French and German and New York rolled into one. Working on all those traits and reading employers and neighbours views of her helped gives clues into her personality. But, as I was suggesting, we didn’t want to give a totally “rounded” view of Maier anyway.

Still also incorporates the audiences’ smartphones. Without giving too much away, could you tell us how this works?

There’s another side to the play, and that sprung from the elements of privacy that I mentioned before. While we were investigating Maier and her privacy, it was impossible to ignore another sort of privacy in the news: Snowden had revealed US Government files, hacking was in the news everywhere, the UK’s ‘Snoopers’ Charter’ was being debated (now law).  The idea arose that the show should feature not only Maier, but a hacker, and, in some magical realist way, they should meet. So the audience having an app on their smartphone acts partly as some kind of reminder about the internet world out there where we can give up our privacy; the app also works in an interactive way during the show- the audience can take photographs of the action which become part of the performance, as well as hosting information about Maier and some of her photographs.

When can we catch Still?

The show is on at The Old Market on the Wednesday, 1st March at 7.30, and Thursday 2nd March 6.30 and 8.30. It lasts an hour and there’s discount offer for Miniclick members. You can book tickets here.

Copyright Jim Stephenson 2017.

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