31 October 2014, 14:22
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Diana Markosian Reconsiders the Meaning of ‘Making It’ in Modern Photography

On October 13th, a recently launched independent photography library in Yerevan hosted an open event appealing to the city’s burgeoning photography community. That evening, visiting photographer Diana Markosian explored traditional notions of what it really means to ‘make it’ in a modern competitive industry. Here is ImYerevan's coverage of the event.

Since its opening in August, the Mirzoyan Photography Library has established itself as a valuable addition to Yerevan’s contemporary urban community. First and foremost a communal space containing books and photography-related resources, it also doubles as a gallery showcasing new works of both established and up-and-coming professionals in the field.

 
Donning the walls of the library, community members can get exposed to new exhibits on display in the library. That evening, the photographer being showcased was Arthur Lumen, and the exhibit included audio. Image from Mirzoyan Library Facebook page.Donning the walls of the library, community members can get exposed to new exhibits on display in the library. That evening, the photographer being showcased was Arthur Lumen, and the exhibit included audio. Image retrieved from Mirzoyan Library's Facebook page.

We found, however, that the library’s main contribution lies in the educational events that it hosts. The doors to its seminars and presentations from visiting professionals are open to the public. And with open doors, open minds are sure to follow – something very important in a society with politically closed borders, like Armenia’s. The event that took place on the 13th was a lecture featuring a visiting documentary photographer, named Diàna Markosian.

Markosian, an Armenian-American born in Moscow but raised in California, is a woman who is no stranger to rejection. In fact, anyone interested in venturing into a career in photography can vouch that it is a constantly evolving industry with new technologies introduced regularly and it is, as a result, ferociously competitive. 

The seminar did not, however, witness Markosian imparting her ‘benevolent and all-knowing wisdom’ upon audience members the way many seasoned professionals tend do when asked to speak to aspiring young people. Actually, we were rather caught off guard by the 25-year-old’s humility and self-awareness.

Markosian laid out her career in great depth and intimacy. She spoke with a special kind of transparency, one usually found in those whose life path has been, brick by brick, self-made. The projector screen behind her featured some of the photographs taken throughout her career. Some images followed her story line very directly, while others did not. It was almost as though the pictures themselves were secondary; as though it was not just her photography she was sharing with us, and in her words, “what you feel and experience is not a picture – it’s only a small part.” 

She also made no effort to romanticize the obstacles she’s faced. Starting out as a writer, in 2011, she soon realized she was unable to ignore her addiction to photography. $30,000 in debt following her graduate degree in writing, she made the impulsive decision to prepare an impromptu portfolio in one month and send it to every major news organization (who, she recalls, laughed at her).

The presentation offered Yerevan’s youth insight into the joys and pitfalls of documentary photography. We were able to share her anguish in the obstacles, like the time she sold only one picture of the terrorist bombing in Moscow, the biggest photojournalistic opportunity of that year, when freelancing for Reuters in 2011 (an experience she considers to be one of her biggest failures to this day). 

It was clear, however, that moments like those have been critical in directing Markosian as both a professional and an individual, into unchartered territories. Following the defeat in Moscow, she moved to Chechnya. This was when the idea for her first project emerged, where she did a story highlighting the effect of rapid Islamicization on one aspect of society: girlhood. She realized that by choosing locations that few others from the West wished to live, she has been able to capture some of these “fleeting windows in time."

Her latest project has her exploring even more unchartered territory, but this time, in her personal life. She has been traveling to Armenia for the last two years making efforts to reconnect and establish a relationship with her father who has been absent most of her life. She has been documenting the process through the trips to visit him which last months at a time. 

This is one of the pictures that have emerged from Markosian's project entitled 'Inventing My Father.' The Russian script on the photo are words written by her father himself and say, "Time has flown between us. My consciousness is split as I try to bring together the image of my little girl and my grown daughter today." Image taken from www.dianamarkosian.comThis is one of the pictures that have emerged from Markosian's project entitled 'Inventing My Father.' The Russian script on the photo are words written by her father himself and say, "Time has flown between us. My consciousness is split as I try to bring together the image of my little girl and my grown daughter today." Image taken from www.dianamarkosian.com

Markosian also admitted that choosing a path in documentary photography has had some subtler negative consequences on her personal life, as well. Her time in Chechnya resulted in more than 12 arrests and she recalled visiting California again after her time there and realizing how the poor treatment of women in these areas, unimaginable to women in the United States, had woven itself into the fabric of her reality. It took re-entering a more gender-equal society to recalibrate herself.

The conclusion of Markosian’s presentation that evening emphasized the importance of embracing one’s individuality. She urged young people not let the technicalities or the intense competition of photojournalism deter them because, in her words, “the technical stuff is minor." For Markosian, photography is not a profession. It's something she "lives and wakes up thinking about." She says, "You need to be in love with this world. You need to care about people. Through this profession, your heart opens and you stop being so judgmental of people and start understanding them.”

To find out more about Diàna and her work, visit her website.

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