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The Photographic Eye of the Beholder

The Photographic Eye of the Beholder

Documentary photography often calls people's attention to issues that tend to get swept under the rug, avoided or purposefully forgotten. Time and again, photographers appeal to our conscience to help nudge us out of shells and comfort zones and into unedited reality.

It is safe to say that the world learned about the Armenian Genocide largely thanks to documentary photography: the works of Armin Wegner, a German who found himself in the Middle East during World War I, revealed the fate of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire first to Europe and later to the world at large. Wegner was the first to capture the Turks' atrocities on film. He clandestinely snuck the photos out of Turkey and popularized them in the West. Today, his photo collection is some of the Genocide's most dreadful evidence.

The tragedy's aftermath remains a popular subject with photographers looking to uncover the truth or demonstrate the depth of the wound inflicted upon a whole nation. While some strive to do so through getting the viewer involved with Armenian culture or present-day life, others tell deeply personal stories about their own quest to define and establish an Armenian identity.

Antonella Monzoni, «Armenian Wound» (2015)

Monzoni’s stories are anything but cheerful. As a journalist focused on social turmoil, she’s most interested in those parts of the world where people lead poor and unsettled lives. She has taken many photographs throughout the former Soviet Union, including northern Russia and Ukraine. This is not the first time she’s been to Armenia — the subject of her latest project — either. Several years ago she dedicated a set of photographs to Yerevan, depicting it as not quite trouble-free, but full of “cheerful, curious, active, hardy and irrepressible people.” This is how she sees Armenians.

 

Her new book, titled “Armenian Wound,” was released in conjunction with the Armenian Genocide Centennial. Monzoni recalls some other difficult moments in the country’s life — her photographs chronicle post-Soviet conflicts and speak of post-Soviet ruin. But, just as with her other work, high-spirited people who are able to remain hopeful despite the troubles that befall them continue to captivate the photographer.

 

Photos courtesy of Antonella Monzoni

Kathryn Cook, «Memory of trees» (2013)

American photographer Kathryn Cook has been working with the Armenian Genocide as a subject matter for many years – she moved to Istanbul and began her research back in 2006. Kathryn has visited Armenia numerous times and has meticulously documented the memories of Armenians and Turks whom she met in Lebanon, Syria, Israel, France, Armenia and Turkey. Going down memory lane is her attempt at finding answers to the most frequently asked questions: how could this have happened? How could some people allow for the murder of 1.5 million others?

 

Kathryn named her project “Memory of Trees” in honor of the Agaçli village in eastern Turkey. In Turkish, “agaçli” means “with trees” or a “place of trees.” Until 1915 Agaçli was an Armenian village, but today it is populated by Kurds. Just like the previous inhabitants, the Kurds began to manufacture silk, as if tradition in this place has overpowered tragic history.  Like silent witnesses, the tress observe the flow of life, while Kathryn’s photographs both document it and hint at the tragedy that has been kept under wraps.

 

Photos courtesy of Kathryn Cook

Scout Tufankjian, «Armenian Diaspora» (2015)

There’s a good reason why Scout Tufankjian tells the Armenian Diaspora’s story through photographs — art is often the only common “language” that descendants of Armenians speak in Ethiopia, Canada, Brazil or Russia.

 

Scout didn’t want to show the Armenian Diaspora as homogenous: on the contrary, she photographed people in all of their diversity, each with his or her own set of traditions and an adopted homeland.  Scout herself is half-Armenian and grew up in the United States, but she always wanted to know more about her roots and the history of the Diaspora. She took her camera exploring from Bulgaria to Uruguay, from Italy to India.  

 

Scout’s project was one of truly global proportions: just 24 days after announcing her crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter back in 2014, Tufankjian had raised all the money she needed. But the most beautiful aspect of the project is the optimism that permeates the Armenian survivors’ stories.

 

Photos courtesy of Scout Tufankjian

Diana Markosian, «1915» (2015)

Diana’s project, in the form of an interactive online book, is the story of three Armenians: Movses, Yepraksia and Mariam. All three are over 100 years old, but the memories of trying to escape the massacres haunt them to this day. All three hail from Western Armenia, the land that is now a part of Turkey. Diana went looking for her subjects’ native villages and each of them had a small request: Movses wanted the artist to find his church, Mariam asked to bring her some soil and Yepraksia wanted Diana to find her older brother, whom she hasn’t seen since the Genocide.

 

The three stories are framed by photographs from the heroes’ personal archives, U.S. Ambassador to Constantinople Henry Morgenthau’s telegrams, images of the dead and newspaper clippings from the epoch.

 

Photos: Diana Markosian for 100 LIVES

 

By Anna Arutiunova