JTF (just the facts): A total of 23 large scale color photographic works (19 single images, 1 diptych, and 2 triptychs), framed in white and unmatted or pinned directly to the wall, and hung against white walls in the two main gallery spaces and the entry area. All of the works are unique chromogenic photograms from the Stagecraft series (some on paper with a metallic shine), made in 2014 and 2015. Physical sizes range from roughly 24×16 to 116×120. (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: A monumental photogram triptych of a lush red floor-to-ceiling curtain fills the entry window of Danziger Gallery. It’s clear that we’re getting ready for some kind of performance. Two steps into the gallery and the visual reverb thrums and howls through the room. Electric guitars, drum kits, singers, and even a horn or two pile up on the surrounding walls, in a brash rock concert of candy colored filters and distorted shadows. It’s an atmospheric moment of swirling visual connection, an echo of that thrilling instant when the lights go down, the crowd roars, the colored lights flash, and the band breaks into its first song of the night.
Farrah Karapetian’s new photograms investigate the intersection of music and photography in a way that we haven’t seen before. The history of photography is littered with posed portraits of musicians, throbbing shots of crowds in clubs and stadiums alike, quieter documents of in-studio creativity, and outlandish set-ups optimized for maximum shock value; as entertainers, musicians have always had an interest in careful image and experience management. What Karapetian has done is to layer her own performance (the making of photograms) in with the subject matter and tools of music, creating bold images that simultaneously replicate and stylize the physicality of music making. They transform the mood of the classic tinted portraits that used to grace Blue Note jazz albums, turning the camera toward the instruments and letting them dissolve into bright expressiveness.
The very nature of the photogram process should lead to thick silhouettes, where light cast toward light sensitive paper sitting behind say a drum kit should generate a big white blob (where the drum interrupted the travel of the light) against a dark background (where the light got through). But Karapetian’s images are light and airy, the drums and cymbals turned into hollow outlines and pebbled orbs. So what’s going on? The mystery is solved with the knowledge that Karapetian purpose-built metal armatures and cast glass discs to replace the actual instruments and supporting gear (microphone stands etc.), creating an entire stage of photogram-friendly forms ready for her special photographic concert.
Karapetian’s images of cymbals are the most striking in the show, as they turn the mundane circular forms into ghostly blossoms, patterned manhole covers, and floating sea creatures. Multiple exposures, twisted angles, deep color fades (from peach to pink or from purple to magenta), and layered repetitions animate the static shapes, creating bouquets of lily pad discs that are arranged with compositional energy, the bright lines of the stands acting like stems or bold linear gestures. The simple improvisational retuning of the angle of the cymbal from flat to steep opens up all kinds of new associations and expressive combinations.
The other instruments in Karapetian’s band lead to more literal graphic presentations, where guitars and saxophones rest on stands and skeletal hollowed out drums stand at the ready in the tinted light. Multiplied layers of overlapping color often create some stuttering motion – a female singer in high heels crouching down shimmers in an interlocked progression of red, white, and blue. And a few of the images descend into deeper distortion, with recognizable instrument forms dissolving into thick washes of seething vibrant color. Seen together, the series of photograms offers the sense of Karapetian stalking the stage, circling around it, getting in tight, and looking for new angles on the static setup.
These works have a freshness and action that isn’t usually associated with the intimate, hand crafted photogram process – they’re big, defiant, confident, and easy-to-like, especially for music lovers. The best of these pictures seem to bottle up the beating energy of a concert, and do so with more style and swagger than any souvenir poster could ever hope to deliver.
Collector’s POV: The works in this show range in price from $4500 to $40000, with intermediate prices of $8500, $10000, $12000, $14000, $18000, and $20000, based on size. Karapetian’s work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.