'Door into the Dark' features abstract photography

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer
Lauren Semivan’s “Velvet.”

Part of the beauty of Lauren Semivan’s abstract, black-and-white photography is that you often can’t tell what the heck you’re looking at.

The 36-year-old Hamtramck resident has a show opening Saturday and running through March 10, “Door into the Dark,” at Detroit’s David Klein Gallery.

On occasion, there are identifiable elements in Semivan’s compositions — the windswept back of the artist’s head, say, a torn piece of paper or a couple feathers. But much of what Semivan’s been working on recently is deliberately cryptic, photographic abstractions full of brushstrokes, swooping lines and translucent fabric.

It’s all very mysterious.

The 13 huge prints in this show represent a partial break from the Cranbrook Academy of Art grad’s earlier work, which generally starred at least one recognizable element, whether a beat-up typewriter or a painting of two rabbits.

But the new images at David Klein leave the viewer without many signposts, which is kind of the point.

“I like having the unknown,” Semivan said.

Lauren Semivan often layers information into her compositions, such as this photo “Lining.”

“Photographs allow me to access the extraordinary,” she wrote in the artist’s statement that accompanied her recent show, “Observatory,” at New York’s Benrubi Gallery, “to keep a record of dreams, and to employ the unknown.”

And indeed, there’s something dreamlike in these images.

But while many photographers alter their pictures in post-production, Semivan is a purist.

“I have this traditional, 19th-century photographic background,” she said. “I like all the manipulation to be in front of the camera, not afterwards.”

So all the disorientation you see was actually in the frame when she pressed the shutter, whether lines scratched on a wall, cascading fabric, or swoopy lengths of string that give her images an eerie sense of depth.

“I was first attracted by Lauren’s black-and-white composition,” said Christine Schefman, Klein’s director of contemporary art, “ and the fact that there’s abstraction. Everything that’s going on is not immediately apparent, so there’s a certain mystery.”

Schefman also likes the various layers of information that Semivan builds into her work.

“It’s painterly,” Schefman said, “and that really appealed to me.”

Asked whether she’ll ever work in color, Semivan says she’s thought about it, but the nature of color photography doesn’t seem to “fit” her yet.

Among other things, color comes with more narrative information, she said, so “it’s less abstract.”

She’s not ruling anything out, however. “I’m interested in the symbolism of color,” Semivan admitted. “It’s a powerful thing to use color effectively.”


(313) 222-6021

‘Lauren Semivan: Door into the Dark’

Saturday - March 10

David Klein Gallery, 1520 Washington Blvd., Detroit

Noon - 6 p.m. Wednesday - Saturday

(313) 818-3416