They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but it would difficult for me to put a word count on the gratitude I have for Earl Brockman and Sarah Jessup, two amazing photographers whose hard work and vision has become an integral part of the Seven Devils Playwrights Conference experience, has enabled us to share that experience with friends, family and funders and serves as the basis for an incredibly rich archive of the past 20 years. - Jeni Mahoney
Of course its notoriously difficult to snap a good photograph of a photographer, but I do like this photo of Earl of the deck of my cabin in Idaho. Earl (on the left) is with my Dad, Jim (right). I love this photo because it reminds me of what great friends they would become over the years.
I met Earl just before the very first Playwrights Conference in 2001. I was looking for someone to take few photos, just so we'd have a record of the work, and someone recommended Earl as being one of the few photographers who could take decent photos in the Alpine - something that would be especially tricky as we'd be working in a dark theater, against a black background with grey set pieces and props and - because everyone was working - I didn't want him to use a flash. Earl agreed to give it try, though I didn't get the sense that he was particularly excited about it. His wonderful wife, Frances, was a regular at the Alpine and acting in a show for us. I suspect his willingness to snap a few photos for us had more to do with that than with anything we were doing.
But it didn't take long for Earl and the Conference to fall in love with each other. Earl enjoyed a challenge, photography in the Alpine is challenging! He also enjoyed the rehearsal process and the opportunity to catch glimpses of artists at work (the magic behind the magic) and managed to do it all without ever distracting from the work that was happening in the room.
Much to my surprise, the day after the first reading, Earl came to me with a handful of gorgeous 8x10 photos and asked me if I wanted them. Did I??? And just like that a tradition that has lasted 20 years was born. Each day Earl would bring in new photos and we would post them in the lobby. By the end of the Conference, the lobby would be covered with photos. These photos became a living history of the Conference in real time.
Amazingly, after a lifetime of working with film, Earl transitioned to shooting and printing digitally in 2003 and he did it without skipping a beat. Even when he was put on oxygen and had to carry a canister around with him, Earl was there and the photos were masterful. Looking back on the impact Earl had on the Conference, it's hard to believe that 2004 was his last year with us as company photographer. Of all Earl's many gifts to the Conference, perhaps the greatest was talking Sarah Jessup into taking his place.
Believe it or not, its even hard to get a picture of Sarah Jessup! Here she is talking to Paula Marchiel - again on my porch in McCall.
For 15 years, Sarah has been the Conference photographer. Oh, did a mention that she's also a doctor. A cardiologist. And still, like Earl before her, she shows up at the theater every day with the most amazing 8x10 photographs! Oh, and the only thing better than her company photos, are the company photo shoots featuring hypeman and funny lady Maggie Rosenthal (who is herself a talented photographer.)
Sarah is super stealthy. She has an astonishing ability be in the room taking photos - even during an actual reading with an audience - without anybody even noticing. Sarah also takes it upon herself to make sure that we get a photograph of every artist, intern and staff member at the Conference. This is no small undertaking. And these aren't just photos, they are portraits. I find this tremendously moving. She sees us. All of us. And she gets us. Seven Devils is about the work that we do together, and Sarah has become an integral part of that work.
And so today, we are sharing our gratitude for Earl Brockman and Sarah Jessup. Two amazing photographers whose talent and vision have truly helped to shape Seven Devils and make it what it is today.
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Slideshow: one photo from each year of the Conference
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