Over the weekend, I was given the awesome opportunity to photograph the interior of old Milbridge Theatre.
The short history, for those not from Downeast, Maine, is that the theater closed in December 2014 following the death of owner Dave Parsons. Not long afterward, a community group formed with the intention of saving the theater. While the group worked to raise funds, the old theater building fell into a state of disrepair. The group’s long-term goal now is to take down the existing building and replace it with a new community theater that will house events, stage productions and concerts as well as movies.
This is where it gets interesting — at least for me as a photographer. One of my favorite photo subjects is the interior of an old, dilapidated building and the treasures it holds. Although it can be fun to photograph an up-to-date building, especially one with interesting architecture, I particularly enjoy the chance to get into old buildings that are no longer open to the public. For one thing, the light is especially interesting. The photographer has to work with available light or use a flash. I’m not a big fan of flash photography because it tends to make images appear flat. Here, however, it was so dark in some of the rooms that I had to just shoot blind with the flash. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to get anything at all — in part because I couldn’t see anything even with my own eyes!
The photo below is one such example. It was taken up in the projection room which has no windows or electric lights. I just held up the camera and shot with the flash. While this photo isn’t especially artsy, it is good for documentation as to what was there.
In another frame, the name of the film on the far right is visible — Pinocchio. I like this shot, though, because of all the unrolled film on the floor.
The photo below was taken on the way up to the projection room. It was way too dark to get a photo with the existing light. Rather than using a flash, I asked my husband to shine his flashlight on the sign. I shot with one hand while holding onto the wall with the other so I wouldn’t fall.
The next photo, below, was taken using available light. (For amateur photographers who might be interested, I find I get better results on shutter priority than on program. With shutter priority, you can set the shutter to a speed faster than it would use in the program setting, resulting in an image that more closely represents what is actually there. In the program mode, the camera tends to overexpose in an attempt to lighten the shadows and this isn’t always what you want. Of course, if you really know what you’re doing, you shoot in manual. But that’s another topic for another time.) My only regret here is that I did not get into the theater before they started removing the seats. You can see the red cushions on the seats, which are lying on their backs. The group has determined it cannot refurbish the seats, at least not economically, so the group is removing them to sell them as souvenirs. This will also serve as a fundraiser.
The front room, which I am told may remain standing along with the existing marquee, features several old movie posters. It’s funny for someone my age to see “The Wizard of Oz” advertised as a movie to be seen in a theater. From the time I was a child, I remember watching “The Wizard of Oz” on TV.
I also found movie reels and reel cases throughout the theater. This one sits right inside the door, where the concession stand was. Note the leaf on the far right. I took a couple different versions of this shot and the problem I ran into was a cluttered background, especially when shooting this item from a lower, more straight on angle. With a background in photojournalism, my tendency is to shoot what is actually there and not to doctor or move things in order to get a better shot. The only way to change the background as a photojournalist is to actually move and shoot from a different perspective. I did what I could.
Here’s another movie reel that was sitting out on the counter in the front room.
I also found the old refreshment menus to be of interest. This one was in the front room (the one that is probably going to remain standing).
And this one is in the next room, where the main concession stand was. Note that beautiful old ceiling!
Additional more artsy photos can be found on my photography website at www.jsbillingsphoto.com. From the home page, click on “gallery” at the top on the left hand side, and then go to the album called “Maine.” There are some neat ones of the ceiling and an old piano that sits in the theater beside the stage/screen.
As a thank you to the folks who allowed me inside the theater, I am donating copies of my photos to them. My hope is it will provide documentation of what the theater looked like March 11, 2017 and, perhaps, they can use the photos in presentations or other documents. For more information on the theater project, visit http://www.milbridgetheater.org/ or feel free to contact me and I can put you in touch with board members.