Funhouse photos

Franz Szony

Artist Franz Szony is master of his own domain.

Artist Franz Szony is master of his own domain.

Photo By Victoria Weiser

Walking into the space on the first floor of the Palladio that Franz Szony has temporarily turned into a gallery is like transporting oneself into an old-time funhouse. The lighting is minimal, creating a dramatic atmosphere. Draped velvet fabric and an asymmetrical, paper-lantern chandelier with blinking, blue bulbs adds to the carnival-like effect. The concrete walls, which have been covered with paper to create a striped background, are loaded with large-scale, photographic prints. A portrait of the artist sits in front of a high-backed, antique couch creating a mysterious presence—as if the man running the show is there himself.

The show, titled The Mood Museum, is highly theatrical.

“It takes you to a place that’s full of high emotions,” says Szony. “I’m trying to take the viewer there emotionally.”

The photographs are portraits of sorts and, at an almost life-size scale, have commanding presence. The images draw you in, as each one is incredibly detailed, lush, meticulous and beautifully eerie. Szony attempts to create characters that people can relate to and finds inspiration in dreams, the past and traveling.

“It’s about creating a feeling,” he says.

A large part of the show consists of a series of eight photographs titled “Circus Freaks.” The statement on the wall reads that these images represent “the iconic characters of an old-world carnival or circus …” However, each image contains a message or a story. The photographs are multi-layered and strive to blend together those once considered freaks with their modern, more generally accepted counterparts. One of the images features Madame Mela, a fortuneteller. She is dressed like a gypsy with gold bracelets adorning her arms. Behind her is an elaborate set made up of wood cut in the shape of draping curtains and painted red with backlit cobwebs hanging from them. The ground is covered in straw. In her hand, she holds a large, glowing crystal ball. Attached to the crystal ball are thick wires that trail down to the lower left corner where their source is revealed. The crystal ball is attached to a computer. This is the twist. The modern day fortuneteller is associated with the internet, a phenomenon that allows just about anyone to have access to all kinds of information.

Szony says that each photo takes about a month to produce, which is not surprising given the attention to detail. Szony does his work out of his garage, and he does almost everything—from concepts and makeup to set design, lighting, wigs and costumes—the final products are printed by a local print shop.

One of the most striking features of Szony’s artwork is the lighting. Some of the photographs have been digitally altered to allow for layering or adding in elements that couldn’t be captured on film—for example, the seemingly conjoined twins in “The Siamese Twins” aren’t really connected—but he doesn’t use the computer to alter the lighting. He creates the effect using a technique called “skin lighting” that makes people look like mannequins. The result is often beautiful and bizarre.

Although the photographs are seductive and beautiful, upon closer inspection there is often something dark or humorous about them. There is an interesting contradiction between the exquisite and the repellant that creates a balance in the work and generates an interest that goes beyond the surface. Like any good sideshow, this exhibit offers elements of excitement, drama, humor and illusions.