In Karabakh (Artsakh) Photo credits by Alexis Pazoumian

Alexis Pazoumian: Photographing the Margins of Society

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YEREVAN/PARIS — Photographer and director Alexis Pazoumian was born in 1988, in Paris. He graduated from a graphic school in 2012, and now specializes in documenting communities living on the margins of society. Pazoumian’s works have been shown in group shows internationally – Los Angeles, Bratislava, Paris, Lyon, Kuala Lumpur, Melbourne, Vancouver, and Zurich and he was a finalist in several competitions: Fondation lagardère, Paris Match Emerging Talent Awards, Life Framer, Foto filmic, Lucie Foundation, Off Festival of Bratislava and he was the winner of the Hip Award in 2020 for his book Sacha. His work was featured in numerous publications worldwide including the Washington Post, The Guardian, National Géographic, Der Spiegel, Vanity Fair, Télérama, Grazia, Vogue, NZZ and Libération.

In Karabakh (Artsakh) Photo credits by Alexis Pazoumian

In 2018, he published his first book, Faubourg Treme, about the daily lives of residents of Treme, the legendary district of New Orleans, the birthplace of African-American culture. The same year, he produced a TV advertisement internationally for Action Against Hunger and his first short film Mineur is finalist at the Nikon film festival.

Dear Alexis, in the 21st century, photography became something everybody could do, yet being a professional photographer is totally different.

Indeed, today everyone can take pictures. But being a professional photographer requires years of work, research and reflection. Photography is not simply taking beautiful pictures separately; it is knowing how to unite images to make a whole and tell a coherent story. It requires a huge amount of work in editing and experience.

In Karabakh (Artsakh) Photo credits by Alexis Pazoumian

Do you take photos with cellphone? Do you think photos done with new technologies can have the same effect as the photos done with professional camera?

I take pictures with my cell phone only for location scouting for movies, but never in a professional way, and a portable camera will never replace a professional one, especially since I work mainly with film, so I think it will be impossible to find this rendering with a cellphone.

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A year ago you published your second book, Sacha, about the daily life of a reindeer herder in Yakutia, in the middle of the Russian taiga. Yakutia is considered as one of the coldest regions of our world. Why did you choose that place and what was most memorable in that experience?

I exhibited this project in Paris in February 2020. I chose this place because I had been interested in Russia for many years and I learned that I had distant family from Gyumri in Yakutsk. Indeed, there is a large Armenian community in Yakutsk. They work there for a few years but most of them go back to Armenia because life is too hard there. The most memorable thing was to find myself with a reindeer herder in the middle of the Taiga for several weeks alone and cut off from the world. But it is a long story that I develop in my upcoming book.

A reindeer herder in Yakutia, in the middle of the Russian taiga (Photo credit by Alexis Pazoumian)

Yes, in 2014 the Armenians of Yakutsk opened their own church, Surb Karapet, which is considered to be the most northern one in the world… Alexis, now let’s talk about your family. In 2005 in Paris I was happy to meet your grandfather, the wonderful artist Richard Jeranian, who passed away in 2019 at the age of 98. I assume he played a role in your development as a professional.

My parents, Michel and Betty Pazoumian, were born in France. Richard Jeranian was my maternal grandfather, whom I loved deeply, but above all I have immense respect for his work and his career. He taught me rigor, diligence and of course, he gave me an outlook. All his life he got up at the same time, he shaved every morning, he painted for hours and hours every day, he had an irreproachable zest for life and a real balance thanks to his family. He always told me that it is the routine of life and discipline that allows an artist to break through. So I try to follow his example as best as I can. Moreover, since my childhood I have been surrounded by his paintings, and I am convinced that my grandfather has inspired me a lot in my personal work even as a photographer.

This year it is the 100th anniversary of Jeranian’s birth. Are you going to organize an exhibition on this occasion?

It is not planned because we are still looking for space to store his paintings — it is a lot of work. But we are going to work with my brother Raphael, who is the art director, on the design of a book of his paintings and the day when it will be published, we will organize an exhibition.

Alexis Pazoumian

As a photographer have you thought about visiting your grandfather’s birthplace, Sebastia (now Sivaz in Turkey) and documenting what might have survived from the Armenians?

I have had this project in mind for several years. I wanted to go there in 2016 but shortly afterwards the event in Turkey and Erdogan’s policy became more rigid. I plan to accomplish my Black Garden project on Artsakh and then I will start this project in Western Armenia for a more personal work.

Last December your new documentary about Artsakh was broadcasted on the Arte TV channel in France. Unfortunately, no matter how loudly we yell about the right of self-determination of the Artsakh population and it being a part of historical Armenia, the “civilized” world remains indifferent and faithful to its double standards — this is not a case of Kosovo for them. What was the reaction to your film and are you going to develop the subject?

My film I think has advanced a bit the thinking in this matter, but unfortunately the television channel programmed a film just after mine called “The other pain” about a photographer in Baku. I was very sad to see, that despite all our suffering the media are under pressure and eventually give in under the pretext of parity of information. I believe that we must continue to fight ceaselessly. Every action is important and what is certain is that Armenian solidarity is stronger than ever. I was happy to see all the protests carried out around me by Armenians in the diaspora, the demonstrations and the donation revolts. We are all united and that is what makes our strength. With time, I am sure we will be able to move forward. For my part, I will continue to make artistic projects all my life on Armenia and Artsakh in order to inform the maximum on the situation and to sensitize people. By the way, I am going to participate in a group exhibition in Yerevan with my Artsakh project. It is organized by the embassy of France in Yerevan and will take place on March 19.

You are always welcome to your homeland! It seems you find inspirations in distant locations – New Orleans, Yakutia, Artsakh. What is the common thread between African-Americans, Siberians and Armenians in your mind?

The common point is that what I am interested in is the communities on the margins of society, whether it is the African-American population in New Orleans or the reindeer herders in Siberia and today the gypsy community in France. I am passionate about communities fighting for their identity, and this certainly echoes my Armenian roots!

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