Magazine Mar/Apr 2013 Capturing History in the Making

01 April 2013, 17:34
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Capturing History in the Making

Robert Frank once said, “There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment. This kind of photography is realism. But realism is not enough – there has to be vision, and the two together can make a good photograph.” Following his description, Scout Tufankjian is not just a photographer; she is a true visionary of photojournalism. Yerevan’s team met with Scout as she returned from Presidential Inauguration celebrations in Washington D.C.

As she walked out of an event in Austin, Texas, she stopped to allow a few cars to drive by when one of the cars, a minivan, stopped right in front of her. The back door slid open and there was the Senator of Illinois himself.

 “You going to be everywhere I go?” said the Senator, grinning.

 “Pretty much, sir,” was her response.

 “What’s your name?”

 “Scout,” she replied.

 “Alright, Scout, see you around.”

This dialogue took place in February of 2007, and it was the first conversation between independent photojournalist Scout Tufankjian and then-Senator now-President Barack Obama, whose presidential campaign she decided to document after spending four years working in the Gaza Strip during “Operation Summer Rains” (the series of battles between Palestinian militants and the Israel Defense Forces). Scout eventually covered Obama’s campaign from start to finish (2006-2008), taking over one million pictures, many of which were later featured on the pages of Time, People, The New York Times, Esquire and Rolling Stone. In December of 2008, more than 200 of those color photos were collected and published in a book authored by Tufankjian – Yes We Can: Barack Obama’s History- Making Presidential Campaign. It seemed like Tufankjian had reached the pinnacle in covering the presidential campaign, having her name forever associated with documenting the history of Barack Obama’s path to victory. But fast forward four years, and there she was with her hard-to-pronounce Armenian last name once again on everybody’s lips in media circles: on Nov. 6, 2012, Scout became known as the author of the most popular photo in the history of social media.

Would our lives and the choices that we make be any different if we had a different name? Do our names have any impact on our personality? Apparently, Allan Tufankjian was highly enchanted by the smart, adventurous and witty personality of the young girl from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird when he decided to name his daughter Scout. It is hard to tell whether or not this unusual name influenced the personality of the Tufankjian girl, but the entire time I was working on this interview, I couldn’t stop thinking that if Lee’s character Scout Finch lived in our times, she would resemble Scout Tufankjian, the vivacious and daring photojournalist who lives in a thriving megalopolis, listens to the Gypsy punk band – Gogol Bordello, reads detective stories over a glass of sherry, watches Masterpiece Mystery and does the job that she loves most – quenching her thirst for adventure as an independent photojournalist who chases moments in history around the world.

“I think one of the reasons that I am a photographer and why I love my job so much is because I am absolutely fascinated by people and their stories. Not just the powerful ones like the Obamas, but regular people. I am extremely fortunate to have this job, which gives me a window into people’s lives,” explains Scout. “For in fine-art photography, the art is what matters, whereas in photojournalism, the story is the most important part. If the picture is beautiful but it tells an inaccurate story, you can’t use it,” Tufankjian says.

Scout is the daughter of the Armenian-American lawyer Allan Tufankjian and his Irish-American wife Betty Tufankjian, a guardian ad litem for mentally disabled adults. “I am the only child in the family, although my mother always wanted to have eight kids. I have a lot of cousins on both sides of my family, but since my Armenian grandparents were my only surviving grandparents, I was raised much closer to my Armenian roots. Most of my earliest childhood memories involve my cousins and I roughhousing while my grandmother yelled “Gamatz! Gamatz!” (careful in Armenian). Frankly, I could still do with someone saying “gamatz” to me every once and awhile,” says Tufankjian laughing. “My dad’s grandfather Kevork (George) Tufankjian came over as a lone child after some of the earlier massacres in Harput. His other grandfather Hetoun Mazmanian came over with his cousin and a few other young men from their village during a series of pogroms (before the genocide). Both my greatgrandmothers were from Musa Dagh.”

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