1920 - 1960s
Apkar Retian was one of the most significant photographers working in Egypt in the first half of the 20th century. Unfortunately, little is know about his life and activity and few of his photographs have been located, despite his prolific output. According to some reports his family emigrated from Amasia, Turkey and settled in Alexandria at the end of the 19th century. After becoming an apprentice to Aram Alban, Retian took over Alban’s photography studio in Alexandria when his elder partner decided to relocate to Europe.(1) He ran this establishment under Alban’s name from 1919 to early 1940s. While he emulated Alban’s style in his studio portraiture, Apkar gradually employed a more naturalistic and lyrical approach to photography that was much more subtle in its observation of the Egyptian landscape and people. It is possible that he was influenced by the latest trends in documentary photography that were coming out of America and France during the 1930s. This ultimately realist vision often went against the highly stylised mode of studio portraiture of competitors such as Van Leo and Angelo. That Apkar was aware and presented himself as an artist is exemplified by the kind of subject matter he chose to photograph – daily life, humble landscapes and ordinary people. While his work retains a romantic spirit it is completely devoid of sensationalist and exotic aura that typifies so much of 19th and early 20th century photography in Egypt.
When Alban returned to Egypt in the early 1940s, he moved to Cairo so as to not compete with his friend and ex-partner. Renaming his studio after his first name, Apkar continued to successfully operate until the mid 1960s. A large number of photographs from the 20s and 30s carrying the Alban studio stamp are Retian’s work.
1) See Gilbert Beaugé, Egypt: Dreams and Realities, Aujourd'hui l'Egypte, 1993, p1924
artistic, studio, documentary
Beaugé, Gilbert. Egypt: Dreams and Realities, Aujourd'hui l'Egypte, 1993, p1924
Golia, Maria. Photography and Egypt, Reaktion books, London, pp98-101
Arab Image Foundation, Beirut Library of American University, Cairo Lusadaran Armenian Photography Foundation, Yerevan