Indian Photography Festival 2018, the fourth edition of IPF, came to a close over the weekend. The month-long event signed off with an interactive session featuring Anush Babanjayan representing VII Photo Agency, and Giles Clark, a photojournalist with Getty Images.
The session brought Anush Babanjayan, an Armenian photographer who has in particular focussed on women and children caught in the crossroads of political turmoil, on her first visit to India and Hyderabad. Hours before her session for IPF, she discussed her journey in photojournalism and documentary photography with us. She recalls the time she graduated in liberal arts and was looking for what she wanted to focus on, “I tried different things and then took to journalism. We had two semesters in photojournalism and I realised how much I loved to visualise stories.”
- Anush Babajanyan presents social narratives related to women, focuses on minorities, and the aftermath of the conflict in Nagorno Karabakh, among several others. She’s known for her extensive work on Syrian Armenians.
- She’s worked in the Caucasus, Turkey, the Middle East and West Africa.
- Her first book ‘The House of Culture’ focuses on the memory of Soviet Armenian culture houses.
She notes how in her home country, Armenia, several women pursue photojournalism, but the popular perception remains that it’s a field more suitable to men: “There’s always the discrimination and doubting the ability of a woman to pursue this line that’s considered risky, and may involve staying away from home while on a project.” Anush has been working as a freelancer, and she along with other like-minded people, formed the collective 4Plus that encouraged women to come forward and find connections to publish their stories. Now a member of VII Photo Agency, Anush has a handful of photo projects to her credit (see box).
She emphasises on the need to understand the political history of a region and asks herself why these stories need to be told. “I look at my own own relation to a story — can I relate to it, learn from it or want to do something about it? My approach is not immediate news photographs but feature-oriented.”
In the process, she’s spent days or weeks speaking to people and earning their trust before she’s allowed into their personal spaces where she can photograph. “A few Syrian-Armenian women didn’t want to be photographed; they were going through testing financial and personal times. So I respected that. A few were eager to talk. Others took time to open up, until they felt they could trust me like a friend. For some, it was cathartic to be able to speak and know that someone is willing to listen to them.”
Going a step further from her own photo project, she launched #BridgingStories (@bridging.stories), an initiative on Instagram along with John Stanmeyer and Serra Akcan, bringing together 24 photographers from Armenia and Turkey. Anush feels it’s one of the most meaningful initiatives she’s been a part of: “I had reported on the Turkish-Armenian conflict first in 2008 and John had done a project for National Geographic in 2016. Twenty four photographers presented visual stories and the purpose was to show the commonalities between people of different ethnicities living in those countries.”
Anush travels worldwide to conduct workshops. These workshops are much more than the ‘how to’ or the technicalities of photography. “Participants know the basics of photography. It’s okay if they don’t take great pictures. At the end of the workshop, each of them presents a story. The focus is on how to tell visual stories,” she signs off.