Six-String Moments: The photographs of Rahav Segev, Steve J. Sherman, and Jack Vartoogian

Six-String Moments: The photographs of Rahav Segev, Steve J. Sherman, and Jack Vartoogian

While organizing an eclectic, daylong celebration of guitar music at the 92nd Street Y, it occurred to me that an accompanying exhibit of guitar-related photography would further engage the audience for an extraordinary array of guitarists from around the world.


The work of three photographers — Rahav Segev, Steve J. Sherman, and Jack Vartoogian — is especially compelling. Each has a remarkable portfolio of photos of guitarists taken over many years. While many of their pictures are familiar to readers of such publications as The New York Times, The Village Voice, Time, Rolling Stone, and Spin, many in this exhibit are being shown to the public for the first time.

What are “six-string moments”? What is important when photographing guitarists? Music exists only in time, while a photograph captures an instant — a silent instant. But a great photograph vivifies the flow of the music through the guitarist, and of the artist through the guitar. A six-string moment refracts the relationships among the artist, the instrument, the music, and the audience.

The guitar became a 20th Century cultural icon and a tool of social change. Recall Robert Johnson’s Faustian picking at the Crossroads, Woody Guthrie’s agitating troubadour ballads, Bob Dylan’s electrifying appearance at Newport, and Jimi Hendrix’s Star Spangled Banner played on a muddy farm in upstate New York; these photographers have captured some other six-string moments — perhaps not quite so historic, but certainly powerful and intensely personal. The guitar is egalitarian —easy to play and easily created out of found objects, and an unmediated expression of emotion. In the new century, it should not lose its power to effect change. These photographs give testimony to the emotional power of the instrument, and of its servants.

The unique ability of the guitar to inspire people, through its powerful yet delicate force, motivated The New York Guitar Festival and its scholarship program for inner city schoolchildren. When the festival was only a hazy ambition, a remark by the playwright August Wilson served as my mantra: “Art changes individuals, and individuals change society.” By providing free guitars and guitar lessons to public schoolchildren, the festival’s scholarship program enables those children to grow and to give back to the city with their music.

This exhibit did not come together by happenstance — friends have made a dream come true. I’d like to thank everyone at the 92nd Street Y, The D’Addario Foundation for the Performing Arts, and, of course, the three remarkable photographers whose work you are about to see.


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This text by David Spelman was written for the Six-String Moments exhibit catalogue. The show was on display during the month of January 2002 at the 92nd Street Y’s Milton J. Weill Art Gallery.


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