Ten years in the making, ‘Survivors’ is an ambitious photographic narrative about surviving victims of the Armenian genocide, which includes portraits, interior scenes, witness testimonies and archival photographs. The project shows the significance of photography in forging an understanding of 1915 and its impact on individual identities.
‘Survivors’ began as a single portrait assignment while Armenakyan was completing a photo-documentary course at the Caucasus Media Institute in 2005. She would quickly go on to establish a successful career as one of the most highly regarded photojournalists working in Armenia. But the overwhelming reaction to that first photograph – Remella Amlikyan’s portrait – encouraged Armenakyan to develop this project further. In a 2015 interview, the photographer explained that it was important for her ‘to show that these people… were not immortal, even if they had lived a hundred years and still continued to live because they have a message. I understood that having kept their message silent for all these years, they were waiting for something.’ Eventually, Armenakyan managed to record forty-five survivors still living in Armenia.
Seemingly straightforward, Armenakyan’s photographs are not mere portraits. They attempt the complex task of bridging the events of 1915 to our own reality through the figure of the survivor. ‘How else could you show the Catastrophe’, asks Marc Nichanian in his introduction to the book that accompanies this exhibition,
… except to show the picture as a relic and to turn each face into its own image, thus transforming it into the face of a real survivor, rather than the face of just anybody, a random portrait? Of course, it is possible to show many things… even the endless terror can be captured… But that is not the way in which the Catastrophe will ever appear. That is not how it will be captured. Unless the picture shows the image as a relic… The survivor is the witness who has forever been transformed into the image of herself.