When one of our favorite galleries teams up with one of our favorite photographers / writers (click here for a blast from the past) / people, we can’t help but get excited. In the ultimate dream team move, photographer Farrah Skeiky is taking over Transformer from January 18 – February 29 for her upcoming exhibition Present Tense: DC Punk and DIY, Right Now. A living love letter to D.C.’s punk and DIY scene, Skeiky’s photography captures these moments of high intensity, high emotion and high drama in slivers of amber. This is the kind of photography that reverberates in your bones. You can hear the cacophony of the music, you can feel the body heat, you smell the sweat. It fully transports you into the moment.
Basically, if you care about music or culture or art in D.C., it’s a show you can’t afford to miss. To give you a deeper sense of Skeiky’s history with punk and photography, we threw some questions at her and she hit us back with some excellent answers. Scroll down to dive headfirst into the world of Present Tense and get a sneak peek at the exhibition.
But before you start reading, press play (and turn up the volume) on this mini-playlist curated by Farrah Skeiky
Do you remember the first time you picked up a camera? How did it feel?
I don’t remember holding a camera for the first time, but I do remember the first show I shot. I remember thinking that all I needed was one good shot from this night, and I’d consider it a job well done. It was also immediately obvious that my camera was kind of a security blanket – I could use it as a jumping off point for conversations, or I could use it as an excuse to not talk.
What made you realize photography was more than just a hobby?
At one point I realized that I no longer felt that bringing a camera with me somewhere was optional. It became part of the “phone, keys, wallet” check. It became clear that in sharing stories, I was better at showing people how a moment felt, rather than explaining it with words.
You shoot a lot of music (and food), why shows? What did originally attract you to it, what made you stick with it?
When I first got into photography, I remember admiring those who were able to capture rapid movement and capture the atmosphere. I started shooting shows to not only support friends bands, but to challenge myself to create the dynamic photos I grew up loving.
It’s something I’ve loved and felt close to for a long time. It’s accessible in price and in location (most of the time), and the shows are almost always all ages. It helps that so many punk shows are benefit shows, too. Participating in punk means having space to experiment, and space to be yourself.
What makes a show good to shoot? What do you look for when you’re shooting?
The only question that I ask before shooting a show is, “Do I like this band?” That’s it. I may shoot a band that is known for being high energy or visually interesting, but that work will still be more detached without that affinity. My favorite shows to shoot are the ones where the room is so small and so packed that there’s almost no distinction between band and crowd.
How did this show come about?
Transformer heard that I was finishing up Present Tense: DC Punk and DIY, Right Now and approached me about giving the book a home in their physical space. It was great timing for their 17th annual DC Artist Solo Exhibition, which is easily my favorite tradition of theirs. The size of the gallery is perfect for the exhibition, as small packed rooms are where most of the photos were made.
What do you hope the show / book accomplishes?
I need people to come away understanding that punk, DIY and independent music in D.C. are not a thing of the past. These movements haven’t stopped, and compartmentalizing D.C. punk and independent music in the past tense is harmful. There is a shortage of affordable, accessible spaces for bands to perform in D.C. DIY venues are steadily closing or being forcefully closed. If we don’t support the art that is being made in the present, it won’t be able to sustain itself in the future.
Punk is an integral part of D.C. cultural history – do you feel photographing it makes you a part of that history? What perspective are you bringing to the table?
Bands that have played three shows and then called it are part of that history. I bring the perspective of a queer woman who has worn many hats in this scene, including zine-maker and musician.
Punk has also traditionally been a playground for disaffected (relatively homogenous) suburbs looking for something more, you go out of your way to make the scene you capture seem more inclusive and expansive. Do you think the punk scene has evolved in that sense since you’ve been photographing it? How?
Punk has never been as homogenous as it’s been made out to be by the selective memory of glossy mags, nor as suburban. Every city and every scene is wildly different. I was an outlier in Seattle, but that’s not the case here in D.C. Friends who grew up in other parts of the US found themselves coming up in scenes that were majority brown or Black. D.C. punk is especially inclusive and supportive of people of various gender identities and races, and some cities are even more so. I never aim to make it seem that way – it just is. The marginalized folks who appear in my photos haven’t been sought out, they simply exist in those spaces.
You are also in a band – tell us about what being on stage is like vs photographing it? Is it comparable in any way? How does it inform the way you shoot?
Both of these activities are all about energy – when I’m shooting a show, I’m studying the band and following their movement. When I’m playing, it’s important that I’m projecting whatever I’m feeling out into the crowd. I aspire to give as much as bands I love watching. I do participate in both of these activities sober.
Favorite band you ever photographed and why?
Screaming Females are consistently the most fun band to shoot. They were the first show I shot for BYT back in 2011. Their engagement with each other and with the crowd is special.
Favorite venue to photograph in and why?
Currently – Songbyrd. Both spaces are solid, and the option to get a snack before or after is particularly clutch.
Favorite band right now, and why?
Firewalker. Right now they’re touring as a five piece that’s a blend of D.C., Boston, and New York musicians. They’ve never sounded better.
Favorite song right now, and why?
“Paralyzed” off the Iron Cages January 2020 tour promo. Just go listen to it and reach your own conclusion.
Favorite photographer right now, and why?
Shaughn Cooper. Look at this photo of DaBaby. Are you kidding me? Next time you’re at a rap show, look for the boy with the yellow camera.
What’s next for you?
The release of the Present Tense book on February 22, and then way more drag shows. Support your local kings.
And now, some selections from the upcoming exhibition with excellent captions by Farrah Skeiky: