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Ballet dancers at a zebra crossing
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Theatre, movies and the photographer who loves them

8 April 2019
The fine art of behind the scenes photography

Often the first thing seen of a new film is the images captured by the on-set photographer. It's a specialist vocation that requires creativity, spontaneity and diplomacy. Alumna Lisa Tomasetti has all three.

An NYPD police officer standing next to a ballet dancer

One of Lisa's most famous photographs, an NYPD police officer standing next to a ballet dancer from the Australian Ballet.

There are times when it can be hard to squeeze into the schedule of Lisa Tomasetti (MDP ’12).

When SAM contacted her, she was working on two television series in Sydney (she can’t disclose their titles) and preparing a series of eight large-scale images for the 2019 Head On Photo Festival, which displays photographic works in public spaces and galleries across the city.

“My life is not normally this crazy,” she says. “But all these TV series and films suddenly just came up. Sometimes it’s really busy and sometimes it’s not. It’s a great problem to have.”

Lisa Tomasetti is a photographer who specialises in documenting the arts. You’ve probably seen her work without realising it. She was the on-set photographer for Star Wars: Episode II, the acclaimed drama Top of the Lake, beloved comedy, Kath and Kim, and the recent Bruce Beresford film, Ladies in Black. And as Geoffrey Rush bounced joyously on a trampoline in the movie Shine, it was Tomasetti’s photograph that became the iconic poster image.

Tomasetti also brings visual wit, beauty and wonder as the international tour photographer for the Australian Ballet.

Despite this successful career, Tomasetti says she “honestly can’t remember” how she found her way into photography. What is clear, though, is that it has given her a way to stay in the performing arts, which was the centre of her family life as a child.

Every school holiday, Tomasetti swapped pencils for greasepaint, taking to the stage to act in pantomimes organised by her parents’ theatre company in Adelaide.

Lisa Tomasetti

Lisa Tomasetti.

She never felt comfortable on stage though, and when she was 15 she gave up acting. But as her subsequent career shows, she didn’t stray too far from the arts.

“I grew up with actors,” she says. “I feel really comfortable around them and I really respect them and what they do.”

Stills photography is crucial yet mostly anonymous work, and Tomasetti says it requires certain characteristics as well as the usual technical skills.

“You need to get on well with everybody and you can’t be a pest,” she says. “You also have to sense when there’s tension on the set, and read actors so you can say to yourself, ‘I might just have to let that one go’.”

Tomasetti came to the University at a time when she says she needed an environment to nurture her artistically. She completed a master’s degree in documentary photography, studying the history and theory of photography. “I really loved having lecturers I could have discussions with. It was great to have like-minded people around and talk about your work and their work.”

For all she’s done, she sees working with the ballet as her “dream job”, yet she is driven to craft her own works, saying “it’s my own way of looking at the world”.

Tomasetti’s large-scale photographs, which are included in collections at the National Gallery of Australia and the Art Gallery of South Australia, often feature her daughter, whom she describes as her muse.

“I feel like when I do my visual arts work, it has to be on a grander scale,” she says. “It needs to refine the lighting like the grand masters, and hopefully tell a different story so you don’t get people in galleries thinking: ‘I could have taken that’.”

See more incredible photographs

To see more of Lisa's work in dance, opera, film and visual arts, head to her website at lisatomasetti.com.au


Written by Gabriel Wilder
Photography by Lisa Tomasetti

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