Essam Nagy

Essam Nagy: ‘For Me Armenia Is Like an Orchard’


YEREVAN / CAIRO — My subject is Essam Nagy, a 42-year-old Egyptian photographer, journalist and documentary filmmaker, the director of the documentary, “In the Beginning Was Armenia,” which he made after his trip to Armenia in 2017.

Essam, photojournalism is a very important and hard profession. Some samples of photo journalism became classics, especially many of Magnum Photos. Now it seems all the people who appear in the hot parts of the planet have chance to document events and sites with their mobile phones. What do you think about photo journalism of the 21st century?

Photojournalism, in its purist form, is documenting real moments in real time. Mobile devices and tiny sophisticated digital cameras are just mere tools to do what used to be done with rangefinder and SLR film cameras back in the day.

In the 21st century, these are the legitimate tools to define the moment. Recent revolutions that took place during the last decade in many parts of the world were documented in digital format, yet, the understanding of visual documentation throughout the transition from physical to digital media was changed, especially nowadays, when video is very much challenging the cherishment and the beauty of the still captured image.

We end up with thousands of photos on our phones and virtual drives. This, in my opinion, in a way degrades or to a great extent supports the feeling of taking visual documentation, including photojournalism, for granted. The artisan of photo “making” has been replaced by photo “taking”; phones and cameras are being treated as shotguns, rather than the magical dark room that transforms the moment into a physical memory held by hands and hanged on the wall for generations to enjoy and behold.

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My concern is that by time and by more indulgence in digital consumption, we may lose our visual memory if we do not have a physical backup that can endure for the coming generations to investigate.

We can still enjoy one-and-one-half-centuries-old photos and glass negatives. I wonder if in the future our present, which then will be history, can still be seen. I question [it].

My impression is that children play important role in your projects. I agree with a Turkish poet, who wrote: “We should give the world to the children.” They will not make war for sure. Last year together with your wife you launched a TV show for children, “Our Story from Home,” to make the routine of isolated children pleasant. What was its impact? Are you continuing this project?

I produced children shows for 13 years, been to many devastated and persecuted minorities, served and helped their children getting over their traumas, and am now focusing more on producing and directing documentary films, yet still helping whenever needed in that manner.

There is a documentary I directed in 2019 about a story I covered several years before that date called “Sequel of Hope” – you can watch it via this link:

People: Essan Nagy

This project is a living example how children can impact, and change the world if they are given proper room to make their voices heard.

I learned a lot by being among those young hearts, they were/are my mentors.

We, Armenians, learned about you after the release of your documentary, “In the Beginning Was Armenia,” in January of last year. How was the documentary received in the Arab world?

In the sphere of intelligentsia, the documentary “In the Beginning Was Armenia” was very much well received, but it is an unfortunate general case that in most part of the Arabic speaking nations that art work which relates to other cultures is not as well received as local related content, but looking forward for near future works to educate Middle Eastern nations more about Hayastan, its history, people and unparalleled culture.

Do you have intention to publish your photos from Armenia as an album?

Yes, there is a future plan to make an art photo exhibition inspired by my experience in my beloved Armenia, it is to be shown in Armenia and abroad.

I am sure that Armenia needs to be presented to the Arab world more often and comprehensively. Despite the presence of Armenian communities in many Arabic countries, there is a lack of translators and other professionals who might introduce the country and culture in respective countries. I am sure non-Armenians like you can make a valuable contribution in this sense.

Generally speaking, the richness of Armenia in art and culture is vastly complex, personal, contagious, speak truths and magic. And in order to be communicated to other cultures and backgrounds, it has to be understood and lived by the researcher/communicator.

For me, Armenia is like an orchard, a garden filled of different kinds of flowers and plants. I count myself as a bee collecting nectar (artforms, history, cultural elements), processing them to produce honey (output/products to the audience/readers) with deep personal understanding of, first, what do these elements represent/mean to Armenians and Armenia, and secondly, how to engage the distant other – who is coming from a different background – in being a part of what is being presented to him/her about Armenia.

In the Middle East, and despite the multitude of ethnicities we live amongst – including Armenians – there is a lot of commons that weaving us together in such a wonderful tapestry, some of these common things are shared with most of the different people groups in the region that relates to Armenia and its history that form a bridge of mutual communication and act as a common language between Armenia and other nations, like: music, food and pain that Armenia endured throughout its history, especially the 1915 genocide.

In that sense, I call myself “ABC” — Armenian by Choice — acting as an ambassador to other cultures by bringing the common things between Armenia and other cultures on the table, to make them understand and appreciate the Armenians, their history, their land, and its people.

Armenia is not a mere South Caucasian nation. Armenia is a very ancient culture that affected, contributed to and shaped to a great extent the world we live in today. Its culture needs and has to be understood, studied, cherished and enjoyed.

Your camera documents the refugees — a painful subject. Unfortunately, after last year war now there are again refugees also in Armenia. Just yesterday in the bus I occasionally acquainted with a schoolboy from Hadrut (Artsakh), who forced to leave his home with his family to avoid the war. So I was excited to see “I stand with Artsakh” on your Facebook profile photo.

I added this logo to my profile picture to express my support to Armenia and the Armenians during the latest 44-day war…

In April-May of this year I paid a recent visit to Armenia to document the circumstances at the affected areas of the Artsakh refugees and their daily lives, it is a devastated situation. The latest vicious 44-day war waged by Azerbaijan against Artsakh and its inhabitants recalls back the memory of the 1915 genocide, it is engineered in the same manner, to wipe out the Armenian population and uprooting them from their historical lands.

I was there for them, and will be there to stand by them, the Armenian indigenous people of Artsakh.

I had many funny and loveable experiences and memories in Armenia, the taste of amazing jingalov hats along with local brewed oghi (vodka), the smiles of young children from Artsakh in a packed after school activity room and their eagerness to achieve what the tender and loving teacher asked them to do, the determination of grandmothers who vowed to regain back their lands from the enemy, the sound of the eternal duduk singing the everlasting love song between the land and the people of the land.

And, the heavenly santur, its immortal sighs, proclaiming the glory of Hayastan in every strike made by the blessed hands of its crafted player.

Some memories are made, and lots yet to be made.

Lastly, I want to share with you an article dear to my heart (“The Bleeding Pomegranate”) that I wrote when I watched a pomegranate that was shot by Azeri fire, and dropped on the ground in pieces on TV, during the second day of the 44-day war.

P.S. Last year, the Armenian Mirror-Spectator published Maydaa Nadar’s article about Essam Nagy’s documentary with references to three parts of his film on YouTube. The links mentioned in that article are moved to another platform. The new links are:

Part I:

Part II:

Part III:

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