Exhibition with photographs by Michel Nahabedyan

Here are my two strongest personal memories from my past related to jazz music:
Somewhen in 1996, early morning. I’m in the car with my mother, going somewhere… and there’s this wonderful music on. I know the voice well. I’m trying to remember on which cassette we have this recording. Is it green or blue? 60 or 90 minutes? Then (the radio host) Toma Sprostranov announces that we’ve been listening to Ella Fitzgerald and that she had just passed away. She had spent her last years seriously ill. Diabetes – two amputated legs, blind eyes. Then the host plays one more of the songs she sang – a ballad. My brain produces an image of a body with no legs and no eyes, in a big empty room. I refuse to accept that this music is coming out of the same room. I start crying and try to hide from my mother. Some days later I tried to find Ella’s photo, found one and copied it. She looked gorgeous, wearing a white flower in her hair. It wasn’t until one year later that I learned that the photo I’d found was actually Billie Holiday’s, not Ella Fitzgerald’s. Ella was just as beautiful. Only different.

My other bright memory is from the same time, from a solo concert of Chick Corea. For a long time I had saved money to be able to get a ticket of the cheapest category. I got a seat high at the balcony in Hall 1 of the National Palace of Culture. There were just a few of us there so I sat at the front of the balcony and I watched the lonely grand piano. On the stage came a man who had no resemblance to the image I had created in my mind, listening to the same undistinctive cassettes, some marked in Latin letters and some in Cyrillic with my own ugly handwriting. Only the introduction and the applause hinted it was him, Chick Corea. He started playing. I, again, started crying. I couldn’t take a breath. He was living every tone. His face was more expressive than anyone I had seen on cinema or TV. His movements, eyes shut, mouth opening as if he would shout, only to close again in a slight smile. I remember that when he stopped playing, there was a woman who came to console me. She told me to breathe and asked me why I was crying – I could not explain. She hugged me and advised I should use the break and go have some water.

I don’t know which of the memories comes first and which is second. I only know that after the Chick Corea concert I understood that a void had opened in me. The political regime Bulgaria was overcoming at that time had imprinted several bright images in my mind. Others it had depersonalized, twisted, forbidden… Music was just as dangerous as words. And to a great extent, outlawed. That’s why my cassettes had names such as “The guy with the bass voice”, “The one with the saxophone”, “Pink F. one, two, three”, “The mixtape”, “The mixtape for the car”… And so, little by little I started slowly substituting cassettes with original discs and trying to capture the personal portrait of the artist. This helped me believe that they are real people, that they exist and smile, cry, rejoice or grieve just like me. That they are telling personal stories the same way I do. It’s just that the hunger to unveil their image remained within me, and most of all for their image during their artistic expression. This is what prompted me to develop as a photographer. I’m trying to capture their emotions the way the sound engineer does in the studio. And now that I went through my archives for this exhibition, my photos started playing music. I know they are playing only for me and hardly anyone else can hear what I hear when I see them. Yet I am content.

Michel Nahabedyan