Nubar Alexanian http://www.nubar.com/ Nubar Alexanian is a documentary photographer who has worked for major magazines in the United States and Europe. For the past 25 years he has travelled to more than 30 countries focusing on long term personal projects which describe the human condition. From 1978 to 1989 he travelled extensively to Peru documenting the life and culture of the Andean people. He received a Fulbright Artist Fellowship in 1983 to continue his work in Peru which allowed him to live and work there from March through August, 1983. The culmination of this work, Stones In The Road: Photographs of Peru (Aperture Books, 1992), documents the migration of the Andean culture from the mountains to the shanty towns of Lima, caused by a fierce civil war and a growing illegal drug industry.
Sara Anjargolian http://www.SaraAnjargolian.com/ Sara Anjargolian is a Los Angeles based photographer focusing on social impact documentary photography. Sara is currently working on two projects: A photography exhibit and book documenting the rise of poverty in Armenia, in partnership with the Tufenkian Foundation (more info here: http://www.HowWeLive.org); and, a second photography book project about separated families which tells the story of nine families pulled apart as a consequence of labor migration. Sara’s photography has been featured in numerous exhibitions and presentations. Her images have been utilized in awareness and fundraising campaigns and have raised thousands of dollars for non-profit organizations such as the Real Medicine Foundation, the International Institute for Genocide and Human Rights, the Armenia Fund, and the Tufenkian Foundation.
Ibraham 'Apo' Avedissian: http://www.apomontage.com Iraqi born Armenian American photographer focusing on activism and general photography. Many projects include paying homage to the Armenian Genocide, and Armenian related themes.
Ara Ayer http://araayer.com A documentary photographer and freelance video journalist who has been working in Southwest Asia and the Middle East since 2001. He has covered the war on terror in Pakistan and Afghanistan and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from Jerusalem. Based in New York, Ara's work has appeared in New York Times, Le Figaro, LA Times, Paris Match, Der Spiegel, Stern, Süddeutsche Zeitung, and Corriere della Serra.
Artur Barseghyan http://www.foreverchild.info/ http://delusionalinsanity.com/ http://delusionalinsanity.blogspot.com/ : Also known as Forever Child and Delusional Insanity - Armenian photographer currently living in the Netherlands. His work vary from outdoor portraiture to surreal and abstract photographs.
Eric Grigorian - http://www.EricGrigorian.com - Eric Grigorian is a photojournalist based in Los Angeles and represented by Polaris Images. Eric won the prestigious World Press Photo of the Year in 2002 for a photograph of a young boy clutching his dead father’s pants after a devastating earthquake in Iran. Eric has also received numerous other awards including the Pictures of the Year (POY) Award and the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) Award. Eric's projects have included: the Changing Face of Iran, the Banda Aceh Tsunami and its Aftermath, Hurricane Katrina, and Spinal Chord Injuries in Iraq. Eric’s clients include Time, Newsweek, US News, the New York Times and European news magazines.
Garik Gyurjyan http://www.GarikGyurjyan.com/ : is a portrait photographer based in Los Angeles. He is a graduate of Art Center College of Design and teaches photography at California State University at Northridge. His current projects include a book titled "Children of Hayk" which is a collection of black and white photographs of important, interesting and well known Armenians from around the world.
Matthew Karanian http://www.stonegardenproductions.com: Co-author with Robert Kurkjian of "Out of Stone," and several photography-based travel books about Armenia. Their book "The Stone Garden Guide: Armenia and Karabagh," was 2005 Award Finalist for Best Travel Guide by the Independent Publishers Association. Karanian and Kurkjian have been featured in major professional photography magazines in the US and Canada, including the esteemed Photo District News, Canada's Photo Life, and the Journal of the American Society of Media Professionals. Operates http://www.ArmenianPhotography.com with photographer Robert Kurkjian (see listing below).
Malak Karsh: Brother of Yousuf Karsh, Malak specialized in landscape photographs of the Ottawa region. His photograph of floating logs on the Ottawa River, called "Paper and Politics" was put on the back of the Canadian $1 bill.
Yousuf Karsh: One of the best-known Armenian photographers, and a master of portrait photography. From the Wikipedia article on Karsh: Karsh was a master of studio lights. One of Karsh's distinctive practices was lighting the subject's hands separately. He photographed many of the great and celebrated personalities of his generation. Journalist George Perry wrote in London's Sunday Times that "when the famous start thinking of immortality, they call for Karsh of Ottawa."
Zaven Khachikyan http://www.photogroup.am: One of the best photographers in Armenia.
Hrair "Hawk" Khatcherian http://www.yerkir.org/eng/start.html Hawk has photographed landscapes, portraits, architecture, still lives and nudes during the last 10 years. The Canadian Post Office used one of his images of a khatchkar to issue a stamp commemorating the 1700th anniversary of Armenia's adoption of Christianity. His photographs of Armenia from "above" (hotographed from helicopters) are especially compelling.
Onik Krikorian http://www.oneworld.am: Excellent photographic documentarian.
Robert Kurkjian http://www.stonegardenproductions.com: Co-author with Matthew Karanian of "Out of Stone," and several photography-based travel books about Armenia. Kurkjian and Karanian have been featured in major professional photography magazines in the US and Canada, including the esteemed Photo District News, Canada's Photo Life, and the Journal of the American Society of Media Professionals.Operates the largest stock photography stie for Armenian Photography at http://www.armenianphotography.com along with photographer Matthew Karanian (see listing above).
Ruben Malayan: Armenian photographer currently residing in Tel Aviv, Israel. Famous for portraiture, genocide photo documentation, architecture photography, etc.
Ara Oshagan: http://www.araoshagan.com/ Ara Oshagan is a documentary photograher whose work revolves around the themes of identity and community. His projects include photographing the survivors of the Armenian Genocide, the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, and Los Angeles ("Traces of Identity").
Levon Parian: an internationally recognized, award-winning photographer whose works have been published extensively in books and magazines. His experimental style pushes the boundaries of photographic self-expression and has been collected and exhibited by museums, galleries, and universities. He is currently teaching and working on his MFA in photography/video at Cal State Northridge.
Vahé Peroomian: http://www.vahep.com/ Armenian self-trained photographer, space scientist by profession. Vahé specializes in fine-art photos of Armenian landscapes, and has chronicled his travels in Armenia through photo essays that combine his love of photography with narratives of his adventures in the Armenian highlands. Three photo essays have been printed by Asbarez daily newspaper in Los Angeles. Vahé's work has been featured in several exhibitions in the Los Angeles, California area.
Sedrak Mkrtchyan DailyArmenia.com - Photographer at PanARMENIAN Photo Agency
- http://www.Armeniabyphotos.com - More than 1.000 photos from Armenia
- http://www.stonegardenproductions.com - travel photography from Armenia
- http://www.photostock.am - Stock photo site with over a thousand images of Armenia for sale.
- http://www.armenianphotography.com - Stock photo library by Matthew Karanian & Robert Kurkjian. This gallery of photographs includes images from Armenia and Karabagh from 1995 to the present.
- http://www.hansrossel.com/fotos/fotografie/armenie/index.htm - Photos of all regions of Armenia.
- http://15levels.com/photography/ - Photography works by Ruben Malayan
- http://www.photosite.am/ - Armenian Photosite
- http://www.vahep.com/ - Vahé Peroomian's photography website photos from Armenia, Karabakh, USA, Spain, Russia, France, and New Zealand.
- http://www.tonyforberg.com - photographs of Armenia, and Children in Armenia and Karabakh by Tony Forberg
- http://photoblogs.am - Photoblogs of Armenian Photographers
- http://foreverchild.info - Photography of Forever Child
- http://www.eros.am - Armenian Nude Erotic Art and Photography. Envisage
- http://www.armenialinks.com/dir/armenia-photography - Excellent link resource of armenian photographers.
- http://www.virtualani.org/kurkdjian/index.htm - About the Armenian photographer Onnes Kurkdjian (1851-c1903).
Documentary Photography in the Diaspora: A Conversation with Ara Oshagan
By Adriana Tchalian
Armenian photography may be defined as photography by or about Armenians. The description is similar to Aram Kouyoumdjian’s definition of “Armenian Theater,” in his article of the same name in Critics’ Forum. Armenian photography is perhaps an even more difficult subject to survey, given the lack of information on the topic. Simply put, there is no comprehensive literature on this very important subject. Even Armenian visual artists, including photographers themselves, are sometimes unfamiliar with Armenian photography and Armenian photographers. Why is that so?
Part of the problem has to do with the disconnected and dispersed state of the Armenian people, which makes the task of centralizing information all the more difficult. And though the worldwide scope of the internet has the potential to fill this gap, that potential has yet to be fulfilled in Armenian photography.
Part of the responsibility lies with us, the Armenian viewing public, who, much like mainstream society, place greater value on painting than other forms of visual art. Yet there is far more innovative work being done today in the field of Armenian photography—and especially documentary photography.
Ara Oshagan, himself a documentary photographer, has been following Armenian photography since the early 1990’s and has collected in that span countless names, books and articles on the subject, an unusual accomplishment. I sat down with him recently and had an extensive conversation about the future of Armenian photography, and particularly documentary photography in the diaspora.
Oshagan believes that “the most important work in documentary photography about Armenians is being done by Armenians themselves.” These include the photographer Ara Guler of Istanbul, who has created his very own signature “street photographs” of his beloved city and has several books to his name; Max Sivaslian and Antoine Agoudjian, both from France, who have worked in Armenia and Karabagh and have managed to both publish monographs of their work; Edmond Ter Hagopian of London, who has done very important work in the Leninakan earthquake region, looking at the aftermath of that catastrophe ten years on; Hrair Hawk Khacherian of Montreal, who has single-mindedly dedicated his life to photographing Armenian subjects. Also working in Armenia and Karabagh for many years are Robert Kurkijian and Mathew Karanian.
“Steering clear of single, catastrophic events—in this case, the Armenian earthquake of 1988—one can find notable and important excursions by non-Armenians into Armenian territory,” explains Oshagan. Jerry Berndt, for instance, a well-known American photographer, has now published two books that include photographs from his many trips to Armenia. These projects were wholly supported by Dr. Donald Miller of USC; Bruce Strong has published a book of photographs on Armenia; and John Tordai of England has worked in Armenia and the reclusive Bruce Haley in Karabagh.
According to Oshagan, “there are also Armenians of significant accomplishment doing work with non-Armenian topics.” These include Nubar Alexanian, the author of three major books, the first one on Peru, by the Aperture Foundation; Michael Hintlian, with a recent monograph on the Boston subway; Eric Grigorian, the winner of the 2003 World Press Award Photo of the Year. And there are many others.
Among female Armenian photographers, there is Alexandra Avakian, who is a photographer for the National Geographic and recently published a lengthy essay on Armenia. Also notable are Armineh Johannes, who has not only worked with Armenians in Armenia and Karabagh but also in Georgia and Iran; Aline Manoukian, who photographed the Lebanese Civil war for years; Sara Anjargolian, with her photos from Armenia; and Greta Torossian from Beirut, whose work is included in an exhibit about the Arab world—Nazar—currently being exhibited at the Aperture Gallery in New York.
Oshagan also spent some time discussing his own photographic projects and the travels associated with them. Since 1999, he has traveled to various parts of the world, in an effort to photograph Armenian life. He is scheduled to make yet another trip next month. According to Oshagan, “the photographs taken in Karabagh, as well as Los Angeles, Yerevan and New York are part of a long-term photographic project that involves the exploration and documenting of the Armenian nation and its way of life, in a global sense.” He added, “I’m interested in exploring the lives of Armenians in the diaspora, wherever it exists and evolves. These include Beirut, Istanbul, Syria, Haleb, and Kessab, among others.”
Despite its emphasis on diasporan communities, Oshagan’s documentary photography does not fall under the rubric of what we might call “multiculturalism,” a term that emphasizes the distinct characteristics of different cultures and their preservation within one nation.
The Postmodern phenomenon of “transculturation”—as defined by critic Fernando Ortiz—is perhaps a better conceptual model for defining and understanding Armenian documentary photography in general and Oshagan’s work in particular. Simply put, transculturation is the merging of different cultures into a new cultural phenomenon.
A focus of the theory of transculturation is the concept of the “fetish.” In Visual Culture (1999), Nicholas Mirzoeff explains that the small wooden figurines common in the Congo (or Kongo, modern-day Zaire), known as the minkisi, were regarded by nineteenth-century European settlers as “primitive,” due to the pierced nails and other sharp objects embedded in them.
Mirzoeff suggests that Europeans did not realize at the time that the nails on the minkisi were, in fact, derived from medieval Christian iconography brought to Africa by fifteenth-century European missionaries. In Mirzoeff’s words, the “pierced body image was transculturated—that is to say, the image was acculturated in Kongo during the Christian period, deculturated as Christian observance diminished and given neo-cultural form in the minkisi” (152).
In similar fashion, Oshagan’s photographs capture the synthesis of Armenian and mainstream (and less-than-mainstream) cultures. Oshagan’s approach seems to recognize the fact that life within the Armenian diaspora—be it within Los Angeles, Paris, Tehran or Beirut—can no longer be identified as multicultural. It is better described as transcultural, one that is constantly merging, changing and giving way to new expressions.
The equivalent of Mirzoeff’s fetishes in Oshagan’s work are items such as the designer pots and pans in Burbank (2002), set aside the silhouettes of more familiar objects in Armenian life, now amalgamated into the Armenian experience. What was once identified as mainstream seems fused in the photograph into Armenian life, which has in turn fashioned a “new” culture. It is the creation and re-creation of this new culture that Oshagan captures in his work.
Oshagan’s other projects include Juvies, a series on high-risk juvenile offenders; iwitness, with photographer Levon Parian, featuring portraits of survivors of the Armenian Genocide; UrbanScapes, photographs of Los Angeles, Yerevan, and New York; and Traces of Identity: An Insider’s View of the Los Angeles Armenian Community.
Over the last few years, Oshagan has also traveled to Karabagh a number of times, in preparation for the publication of an upcoming book. The photographs will be placed alongside Armenian text written several years ago by Oshagan’s father, the writer and critic, Vahe Oshagan. According to the younger Oshagan, “there’s an indirect link between my father’s text and my photos. They compliment each other rather than offering an explanation.” It appears that Ara Oshagan’s photography will continue to explore and produce even more opportunities for comparison and growth, both personal and cultural.
All Rights Reserved: Critics Forum, 2005
Adriana Tchalian holds a Masters degree in Art History and has managed several art galleries in Los Angeles.
This and all other articles published in this series are available online at www.criticsforum.org (http://www.criticsforum.org). To sign up for a weekly electronic version of new articles, go to www.criticsforum.org/join (http://www.criticsforum.org/join). Critics’ Forum is a group created to discuss issues relating to Armenian art and culture in the Diaspora.
SUBMITTED BY THE AUTHOR