Database of Armenian photo-media practioners

The design and construction of the database have been realized by the Lusadaran Armenian Photography Foundation Yerevan, with the support of 4Plus Documentary Center and financial assistance from Armenia’s Ministry of Culture.

The concept of the project and its project manager is the co-founder of Lusadaran, art historian and curator Vigen Galstyan.

Art historians Ani Haroutyounian and Marine Hovakimyan participated as research assistants during the initial, building stage of the database.

Database design by Nvard Yerkanian

English to Armenian translations by Taguhi Torosyan

Armenian to English translations by Vigen Galstyan

Digitization assistant: Vitaliy Mirzoev

Web development and coding by Aghasi Lorsabyan, ITAV Lmt.

Web development management by Art Ghazaryan, ITAV Lmt.

All visual and textual content included in the database is presented here for educational and research purposes only. All copyrighted items belong to their copyright holders and are protected by RA constitutional laws. Any breach of this law or complaints should be addressed to the site’s administrators for immediate rectification.

To offer materials or information relevant to the database, please use the forms in the Contact Us page.  

The materials included in the database are presented according to the following scheme.

  • The ‘Practitioners’ section gives the names of the photographers and any biographical details known to us. In the case of photography studios, the name of the studio’s proprietor is the leading information. In some cases where the studio operations were especially large-scale and incorporated more than a few cameramen (as in the case of the Abdullah Frères studio) the studio name is given as a separate entry. The biographical details of the photographers and the articles describing their activities are based on primary research material and secondary sources which are mentioned in footnotes and/or the bibliographical references. The nationalities of the practitioners are defined according to their ethnic origin, communal belonging and citizenship. A selected list of exhibitionary activity is also included. Geographical and political regions and cities where each practitioner was primarily based in are given according to their historical names.

  • The ‘Gallery’ section presents up to fifty photographs by each photographer. Each gallery is linked to the biographical page of the practitioner. All works have information regarding their title, date (precise or approximate) when the photograph was taken, decade, region of creation, medium, source of the reproduction and whenever known the copyright status. Taking into consideration the reproductive nature of photography we have not provided any measurements for the photographs, many of which have come to us as reproductions in the press or digital files. In the case of reproductions sourced from press and other publications, the digitized files have been amended in Photoshop in order to remove printing defects. In the case of black and white press photographs published in press, it is assumed that the original source material came in the form of gelatin silver photographs. In the case of materials drawn from open-source, public pages and websites the source of the photograph is given. Whenever possible, the database administration has sought permission from copyright holders for the material’s usage, which is of non-commercial educational and research purposes only.

  • The titles included in the ‘Library’ section were chosen according to the following principle. These are primarily albums and photobooks by Armenian photographers published in Armenia and the Armenian diaspora, photography exhibition catalogues published in Armenia, research publications related to the history of Armenian photography as well as albums and photobooks representing Armenia and Armenians by foreign photographers. The ‘Library’ will also include important essays and articles that relate to the history of Armenian photography or are devoted to individual photo-media practitioners. In case of availability and permissions, the publications will also be available for free download.

  • The ‘Timeline’ section presents information about past, current and future events in Armenia, the Armenian diaspora and overseas, which are related to Armenian photography and photographers. The aim of this section is to assemble factual data on all such events beginning from the 1850s. In case of each event we provide basic information such as the title, the location, dates and the bibliographical or internet source from which the information came from.

The historiography of Armenian photography is still in its nascent stage. A number of publications written in the 1980s and after were the first steps towards addressing this subject, but these were very fragmentary in nature and were not based on thorough academic methodologies.

This database is the first attempt to present the overview of the history of Armenian photography from a scientific angle. The aim of the project is to address the issue of theoretical and historiographical definitions of the concept of ‘Armenian photography’ itself through empirical, primary research.

As a technological art, which had a Universalist imperative and a global reach from its very birth, photography’s ‘national’ definitions remain extremely problematic to this day.

In the case of ‘Armenian’ photography, attempts to provide such a definition are further complicated by the historical circumstances that photographers of Armenian origin often worked under. In this instance we must first of all define what we mean when using the term ‘national’ in the first place and how we understand its relationship to artistic and cultural practice.

From the 1970s onwards, notion of what constitutes ‘national’ have been subjected to fundamental and thorough questioning. Thanks to the work of numerous theoreticians, philosophers and historians, it is generally understood today that the modern idea of ‘national’ is a socio-political construct that is contingent on historical developments. As argued by the noted social theoretician Benedict Anderson, the nation is a ‘imaginary political community… It is imaginary because even the members of the smallest nation will never know or meet the majority of their co-members or even hear about them. Yet, in the mind of each one lives the image of their togetherness… [thus] communities should not be differentiated by their falseness or trueness, but through the style that they are imagined’.

Following Anderson’s argument we can say that modern Armenian nationalism is the result of 19th century modernity and the influence of European Enlightenment principles that were appropriated and adopted by the founding figures of the Armenian ‘Zartonk’ movement. That is the, the basis of the ‘nation’ in this instance becomes not the ethnic origin or religion, but the belonging to a certain ideological, politically formulated model. Being the product of both political and cultural processes, Armenian art should also be viewed in this framework, which assumed its more or less defined outlines in the middle of the 19th century. It is precisely during this period that photography becomes a mass-scale phenomenon in the Middle East, the Caucasus and Armenian colonies elsewhere.

During nearly eight decades, right up until WWII, the notable majority of locally-based photographers in the Middle East and the Caucasus regions were ethnic Armenian, who were fully integrated in the socio-cultural life of their respective communities. From approximately 1950s onwards the situation changes radically. A new generation of post-1915 Genocide photographers across various cities of the world comes to the fore, which gradually loses its ties with the Armenian context and culture. In the same way, a number of non-Armenian photographers begin to practice in Soviet Armenia and their work – though relatively limited in scale – becomes an important contribution to the development of photographic representations of Armenia, its people and daily life.

1950s also saw the end of what might be termed as the ‘classical’ period of photography’s history, after which the medium attained the status of mass-made consumer utility, available to almost all middle class households. Professional photographic practice went through gradual decline, giving its place to various new photographic phenomena in both cultural and artistic spheres.

The rapid progress of digital technologies in the 21st century became yet another watershed moment in the history of the medium. Today, our understanding of the essence of photography cannot be limited to or be distilled down to the status of a frozen photographic still. The photograph today is also an image in movement. It has duration and is liable to ‘expire’ and be transformed. It has integrated itself in almost every aspect of cultural production – from social networking sites to the art gallery walls. Our attitudes to the significance and processes of historical photography have also experienced a dramatic change. We are increasingly witnessing today how ordinary, everyday photography can often assume or ‘play’ the role of an artwork through various modes of recontextualization.

These developments in Armenia and the Armenian cultural context have their own specific nuances, which have served as the basis for choice of the materials used in the present database as well as the approaches in its construction, which are detailed below.

  • The database strives to include almost all professional Armenian photographers and photography studios which were operating prior to 1950. Regardless of the duration, nature or the quality of their practice, we consider that the legacies of these practitioners are important socio-historic and cultural material relevant to the elucidation of Armenian modernity and reality between the 19th and 20th It is also material that desperately needs continual assessment, exposure and study in the context of modern Armenian culture.
  • Taking into account the development of Armenian photography as a networking, communal and familial practice, we have included in the database those photographers who were active in the centers of the Armenian diaspora up until the 1950s. Their archives are significant documents elucidating the life and outlook of these communities.
  • The choice of photographers who began working after 1950 is predicated on their professional status and the historico-cultural as well as artistic significance of their output.
  • In regards to photographers and artists working during the second half of the 20th century and up to this day, we have primarily chosen to focus on practitioners based in Soviet and Independent Armenia. Some diasporan figures and a number of non Armenian photographers whose work has a direct and notable relevance to the history of representing Armenian identity and culture have also been included.
  • Contemporary Armenian photographers and artists working with photo-media are chosen according to the lever of their professional standing in their various disciplines (such as significant public exposure through exhibitions and publications).
  • The database includes those contemporary artists who have created important works using various photographic medias.
  • Taking into account the developments in photographic theory since the 1980s and the ‘expanded’ understanding of photography’s essence, we felt compelled to incorporate into the database those contemporary artists who work with moving image, and, in particular, video art.
  • In the ‘Library’ section of the database, we have included all those publications that directly relate to the representation of the Armenian cultural and social context and have relevance to the study of Armenian photographic history.
  • The ‘Timeline’ presents a broad overview of various photographic events (generally exhibitions and conferences), which have taken place in Armenia or are directly related to the presentations of Armenian photography and the work of Armenian photographers.

These approaches are undoubtedly riddled with problematic points from the perspective of contemporary art-historical theory and cultural studies. Our hope is that the creation of this database and its continual upgrade will become a starting point for discussing and debating these issues and generate further research into this important area of Armenian cultural production.