AussieTheatre.com Editor in Chief Erin James sat down with industry giant Kurt Sneddon (he’s 6’6″ – see what we did there?) to reflect on 12 years of memories at Blueprint Studios before the popular photography house closes its doors next month…
When the pale blue barn doors of a little boat-shed studio in Balmain close this September, it will signal the end of a chapter in the life and career of well-loved industry photographer Kurt Sneddon and his business – Blueprint Studios – which he lovingly built from the ground up more than a decade ago. Blueprint Studios has been a name synonymous with our industry from its inception in 2004, and Sneddon as owner/head honcho has been at the centre of the Blueprint whirlwind every day since.
Kurt, 36, has long been involved in the performing arts (in fact, this editor-in-chief has been known to sing along-side the BFG all the way back to high school days in our home town of Newcastle!). At age 20, his height and deep vocal range scored him the role of Peewee Wilson in the blockbuster Australian musical, Shout, The Musical of The Wild One, directed by the late great Richard Wherrett.
Armed with his first 35mm film camera, Kurt’s three years on the road with Shout! were spent playing around with the art of photography. While touring the country and shooting for fun in hotel rooms and backstage, he forged friendships with a legion of industry mates who then became the foundation of a loyal client base for his blossoming photography studio.
“Really early on, I remember Michael Tyack needed a headshot quickly for a program once. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I popped MyTy’s gorgeous blue eyes in front of a blue wall across the road from my house and, voila!”, Kurt reminisces.
Actor James Millar coined the phrase “being Sneddonized” and finally, an actor’s photographer was on the scene! Making his photography subjects feel at ease and composing gorgeous creative portraits was Kurt’s style: think beautiful outdoor locations with colour, light and not just a stuffy, studio-lit mug shot.
His background in performing provided him with a great eye for shooting live productions, with Sneddon creating countless production, commercial or behind-the-scenes images for many of our leading production companies and artists, including being the photographer in residence for the Adelaide Cabaret Festival during the tenure of Artistic Directors David and Lisa Campbell.
During this high-pressure big star series of events, Kurt worked with Donna McKechnie, Natalie Cole, John Bucchino, Jason Robert Brown, Stephen Schwartz, Olivia Newton John, Caroline O’Connor among MANY others, and he took that photo of Bernadette Peters. You know the one. The one Bernadette herself ADORES.
“You know, that all happened because I was given an opportunity and just really seized it. I knew that shot was magic the instant I pressed the button. I ran it to a print shop in Adelaide the next morning, bought as nice a frame as I could get from Target in Rundle Mall and I asked Lisa Campbell to pass it on to Bernadette via her entourage – and the rest is history. I’ll never forget Richard Jay-Alexander, Bernadette’s producing manager wrote me back a note that said simply “Kurt, you are INSANELY talented. Bernadette and I look forward to meeting you tonight”. Cue butterflies… That was one of those really exciting moments where I felt ‘maybe I might be okay at this’ and that anything was possible.”
After outgrowing his first studio in Leichhardt, Kurt moved Blueprint to its famous home inside an old Redfern church and later, the company moved to a blue boat shed in Balmain. Embracing change has been a major part of the Blueprint business model over the years, and it is no surprise that after 12 years of fabulous work, thousands of images on countless hard drives, the most well known photographer in the musical theatre and cabaret world is ready for change again.
In 2014, Sneddon’s wife, and star of musical theatre, Marika Aubrey, was awarded a green card to live and work in the USA, and so life has taken them to New York City.
“Yeah, the commute is a little tricky!” Sneddon laughs, “so it feels like time to finish up here, and start fresh in our new home.”
Sneddon plans on continuing to photograph performers in the Big Apple, but branded under only his name from here on, rather than Blueprint Studios.
“It’s time I went back to just being me. I think part of the struggle with Blueprint Studios was that it doesn’t run without me. I tried for so long to pass the baton and train a wonderful team and we definitely had that. But at the end of the day, no one’s going to care about your business as much as you do.”
A farewell chat with Kurt Sneddon
I sat down with this gentle giant for one final catch up over coffee, to ask five farewell questions as he wraps up Blueprint Studios and heads home to New York City…
Erin: Question No 1: Who, out of all the big names, the hundreds (would it be thousands?) of clients, was your favourite Aussie to shoot? Was it me? It was me, wasn’t it?
Kurt: Ha! [laughs] Yes. That shot we did of you throwing up autumn leaves in front of your face – what, 8 years ago?? THAT WAS THE ACTUAL BEST!!
Really though… I’ve pretty much loved every person I’ve ever shot. Everyone’s got their own story and fears and concerns about how they look in front of the camera. I kinda love how it’s always been my job to break through that stuff and I’m usually just tricking people out of habits or getting them to relax with my stupid laugh or just having a good old chat and a laugh!
The main skill I’ve learnt, I think, is just how to make people feel comfortable and forget about all their stupid self-consciousness. The photography and lighting is all secondary to how a client is feeling and if they’re stressed or worried, that all comes out in the end product. I think that has been my strength all along. The technical stuff isn’t that hard. The magic’s made in the interaction between photographer and photographee… That’s a word right?
Erin: It is now! I’m printing it! Question No 2 – What would you say your biggest challenges have been?
Kurt: Not burning out? [nervous laughs] The business side of things has always been massively challenging. All the time. Running a business, it never stops. You know this! You always have to keep “feeding the monster”.
Blueprint Studios is my own Audrey II! [laughs]
But isn’t that like all of us in the creative game? We all work so hard for what we love! Like all artists’ work, no one ever sees what goes on behind the scenes to create what we do, whether it’s acting, singing, costume design or anything creative! But then I also believe that it’s in true professionalism to hide that work away behind the curtain too. Like watching truly great actors, you don’t see the work, right?
Erin: Ok – so you’re closing BPS down. There’s nothing to lose – don’t hold back! Question No. 3 has to be – What advice do you want to give actors about being photographed? #nofilter
Kurt: Haha! Forehead forward! More! More! Taller! No, really! MORE!! [laughs]. It’s the same thing I say to everyone! And every person is always like – “Really? This looks good?!?!” Trust me people! Posture! It’s a thing!! [more laughs]
Oh just relax I guess! It’s not rocket-science. If you’re not relaxed than we can’t make great work, but then also, it’s my job to make sure that happens. I really believe if your photographs aren’t amazing, it can only be my fault. I don’t believe in any crap people say like “I’m not photogenic” or “this is my good side”. My actual favourite thing is if I can prove to a client that whatever they are worrying about isn’t true, or is only in their head!
Erin: Question No.4 – What about the productions you’ve shot? What were the highlights there?
Kurt: Oh wow! Actually, Dr Zhivago was a really special project for me. I loved that I got to create those images for an Australian premiere from scratch, and that the team put their faith in me – thank you Kellie Dickerson and Mitzi Zaphir!
All the albums I’ve done were a real treat: David Harris, David Campbell & John Bucchino, Emma Pask, Amelia Cormack, Patrice Tipoki. Hayden Tee’s Generation WhY? Pete Silver’s Glitterbomb poster of Paul Capsis for Hats Off 2014 was real fun. We were finding glitter bits all over our studio for months after that shoot! All of Shaun Rennie’s Light The Night concerts were just magic to photograph. I’ve got that many photos of Jan Van De Stool drawing the raffle with Emma Pask! I met so many wonderful icons of our industry on nights like that. Enda Markey’s productions of Side By Side By Sondheim and Ruthie Henshall in Concert. He made me a beautiful coffee-table book of those photographs! David & Lisa Campbell have always been incredible to me, from the Cabaret Festival, to DC’s own gigs, and now everything at The Hayes. I owe so much of my career to them! And to Richard Carroll! And Neil Gooding! Ok… this is turning into my thank you speech! [laughs] Have I won an award?? Is there a Helpmann for photography? [more laughs]. Sorry if I’ve forgotten anyone. I’m sure I have!! My wife?! God? [more laughs]
Erin: Question No 5: What will you miss about the Australian theatre industry, and being “that guy” who photographs pretty much everyone?
Kurt: The people. For sure. I’ll really miss The Hayes I think, and everyone I see in foyers and on shoots every day. It really has been wonderful to be “that guy” for our industry. Truly. That’s been a real honour and a privilege. The best bit of any of it. I’ve loved that sense of connection to everyone. Rocking up at events like Twisted Broadway or The Rob Guest Endowment and knowing everyone by name. I think it will take a long while to build up that sense of community in NY. I don’t know that I’ll ever have as much of that there as I do here in Oz, but we’ll be back every now and then to see family and drop in at The Hayes! I’ll probably send out a few emails every so often to book a few headshots to help pay the airfares…! [laughs] Watch this space!
I can’t begin to thank Kurt Sneddon enough for all of the wonderful things he has done for me personally over the last decade and I know there are thousands of artists, producers, and theatre lovers out there who appreciate his work on a daily basis. It is with a heavy heart we say farewell to Kurt and his epic photography talents. But our loss is New York City’s gain. Perhaps look for Kurt walking his beloved dog Maverick – a well-known mascot of Blueprint Studios – around Central Park next time you’re in New York.
We wish him, Marika and Maverick – all the best from AussieTheatre and a debt of thanks on behalf of our industry for making us all look like rockstars and rather pretty people.
Check out a selection of our favourite shots from Kurt and Blueprint Studios in this gorgeous photo gallery. You’re welcome.
View more of Kurt’s fantastic photos on his new official Facebook Page.