#9 Alternative Narratives IssueBuilding on the curatorial theme presented for our inaugural Photoworks Festival, this issue of Photography+ seeks to delve deeper into global perspectives on photography, via new bodies of work by emerging artists and historical perspectives missed or overlooked in the past. Our writer in residence, Marissa Chen, speaks to the founders of the Angkor Photo Festival. Meanwhile, Hudda Khaireh of collective Thick/er Black Lines builds and expands on the ideas she presented during the Photoworks Festival in an article titled Black looks? Capturing the (de)colonial in the everyday. Our curator, Julia Bunnemann, revisits the work of Lorraine Leeson and Peter Dunn through a contemporary lens. We also have two special expanded folios features for this issue. Read our conversation with Diana Markosian about Santa Barbara, her debut monograph and a compelling reconstruction of her family’s first years in the United States after leaving Russia in the 1990s. We also caught up with Renata Bolívar, who has shared images from her latest project which takes us into the darkness of the Columbian highways.
In partnership with Aperture
Diana Markosian‘s work explores the relationship between memory and place, paired with an intimate approach to storytelling, using photography and video.
She received her master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism at 20 and since then her work has taken her to some of the most remote corners of the world, where she has worked on both personal and editorial work. Markosian’s images can be found in publications like The New York Times, The New Yorker and Time Magazine and she is represented by Getty for Reportage.
Markosian’s first monograph, Santa Barbara, is published this Autumn by Aperture. The series recreates the story of Markosian’s family’s journey from post-Soviet Russia to the USA in the 1990s.
We spoke to her to find out more about her wider practice and this latest project.
Could you explain your practice and how you work in a few sentences? How has it evolved since you began making work in your early 20s to now?
I started making images when I was 20. I guess in the beginning I was interested in discovering the world, and photography became my compass. It was never really a career. I was learning about the world, and taking pictures along the way. The biggest difference now is that the work has become much more introspective. I am looking inwards, and trying to understand something else in me. My practice is rooted in documentary photography, but I am really pushing myself to expand my own language, whether through motion, writing or using other mediums to create an experience outside of still images.
What one thing has most helped to shape your practice?
Why photography? Why the still image? You initially wanted to be a writer, what changed and drew you to photography?
I wanted to create a world where I could tell stories. I went to graduate school to become a writer, but instead found photography. The medium felt intimate. I could create an experience, without involving anyone else. It felt like my own little adventure. I was traveling to Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Ukraine – experiencing places that I had only read about in my history classes. That felt special. I think my personal work has benefited from this approach, but there’s a part of me that’s curious to see how my projects expand as I start to collaborate with different makers.
Where do your ideas begin?
My projects come from my own life. They are all somehow connected to me. My first project about the aftermath of a 20 year conflict in Chechnya wasn’t really about the discord. It was about girls who were coming of age, much like myself, while living in a part of the world that I was deeply connected to. I was reflecting a part of my reality in the people I was meeting. That has only deepened in the last decade.
Can you tell us a little bit about your forthcoming project Santa Barbara?
Santa Barbara is a personal project about my family, specifically my mother and our journey to America. The idea behind the project was to understand my mother, and the decisions that she made, which ultimately changed my life forever.
In Santa Barbara you reconstruct your intimate family history by mixing moving image, archival photography and your own photography – can you tell us about the process for this project? Will you work in this format again to further tell this story or others?
I was discovering things about my family, and trying to process it. Art was my tool. I worked with a script, actors, a production designer, casting director, a cinematographer, etc to visualize this story. It was the only way it made sense to me. I am now starting to work on something new, and I want to build off these formats. For me, the main thing is not to replicate a project, but to find a way to expand my language and tell stories in different ways.
Can you tell us a little bit more about how you cast the ‘actors’ for Santa Barbara?
I worked with a casting director in Hollywood to find actors to play members of my family. It took about a year to find the actress to play my mother. In an odd way, it felt like I was replacing everyone in my family. It was both painful, and quite surreal. We were reliving parts of my childhood I had forgotten, and for a split second, I had everyone back.
On the eve of the publication of your first monograph, where do you see your practice going next?
I hope somewhere deeper, more honest. There’s this real hunger in me to grow in my practice – and by growth, I don’t mean, to become a better photographer. To me, growth is vulnerability. How do I become more honest with the work I am
making? I guess the grey of life is what I am interested in, and finding a way to translate that in my art is what I am after.
What does it feel like to be Armenian today, in this current moment?
It’s a painful moment for every Armenian. The region, known as Artsakh, is under threat of being destroyed. We’re living through unprovoked attacks by Azerbaijan, framed by the media as ‘clashes’. I’ve been speaking with my family in Yerevan over the past month and I can hear their voices changing. The fear is real. For many Armenians this conflict feels reminiscent of the 1915 genocide, and it’s been challenging to understand how best to help. I’ve supported local organizations, including Armenia Fund and Halo Trust, which supports teams clearing landmines in Artsakh. Personally, this month, I started a print sale to raise funds for the Armenia Fund. The sale was meant to last the entire month of November, but sold out within two days. We’re launching another sale in December. It’s been really important for me to be involved, and find a genuine way to help. I’ve had to rebuild my relationship with Armenia as an adult, and I am seeing how this moment has changed me. I am so proud to be Armenian, and want to do everything I can to support my community, especially as we’re witnessing history repeat itself.
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