https://vimeo.com/650215660“Four Questions on Photography: Ilvy Njiokiktjien in Conversation With…” is a series of events where each month well-known photographers discuss with Ilvy their response to these questions:
- What is your most important photograph, how did you make it, and what impact do you think it had?
- What is your biggest photo failure; an image you wanted or needed but you messed up somehow?
- What is your dream image or story?
- What advice would you give to your younger self?
In this episode of the series for this event, Ilvy is in conversation with Anush Babjanyan.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Thank you, PhotoWings. And for people who just joined, please know that if you want to ask any questions, put them in the q&a box down there somewhere. I’m only allowed to ask four questions today, hence the title of this whole thing. But please feel free to ask any questions, and we’ll make sure to answer them all. So, Anush, I’m going to introduce you with your original biography. Are you ready?
Anush Babajanyan: Yes, I wrote it.
Ilvy Njiokikjien: You’re nervous for your own biography. So, Armenian photographer, Anush Babajanyan, focuses her work on social narratives and personal stories. And in addition to working extensively in the Caucasus, she photographs in Central Asia and all around the world. And she’s worked in the Nagorno-Karabakh during the Autumn 2020 war. And she still continues to photograph its aftermath. And she’s also working on an environmental project in Central Asia, which is supported by the National Geographic Society. And in 2019, she won the Canon female photojournalist grant, and her photography has been published widely all around the world. There we go. That was— you’ve done a lot of stuff. Let’s put it that way.
Anush Babajanyan: The life of a photographer.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah, sorry.
Anush Babajanyan: The struggle.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: The struggle in the life of photographer and you’re a lovely, VII colleague of mine, a member of VII photo. So, let’s start with the first question. And you can share your screen whenever you feel is the right moment. But the question is, what is your most important photograph so far?
Anush Babajanyan: Yes, well, thank you for these questions. They’ll be in general, because I haven’t really thought of these questions and sort of answers to them ever. So you really open this whole new world of looking at my photography in a different way. And so, I thought deeply about your first question of what photo would be the most important, and I suppose it’s this photograph of two friends in Shushi, Nagorno-Karabakh, which I photographed in 2017. And at the time I was working on a story about large families. Nagorno-Karabakh is in the South Caucasus. It’s a disputed territory, a disputed land, unrecognized republic, which was in the simmering conflict for about 30 years, until last year, when the war broke out for 44 days. And, but I’ve been photographing here since 2016. And it was in 2017 when I was following the family of Angela who’s standing. She was one of seven children in her family and so, we were in the town where she lived temporarily. She was another town, but she was here in Shushi, which is the second largest town in Nagorno-Karabakh, and she was just playing with her friends, they were picking some berries from the leaves. And this is such a poetic moment that I spent quite some time trying to catch this. It’s really silent. Photographing didn’t last very long. But for me, it was just this moment of childhood that a lot of the photographs in this story were, because it connected to large families, so many children. So, for that story, I did spend a lot of time with kids. And so this was just one of them.
Ilvy Njiokikjien: Beautiful, beautiful image. So if I understand you right, you are already photographing these larger families before the war broke, right?
Anush Babajanyan: Yes, yes. So, for about three years, because there was this general— there was the government, the local government was offering incentives for families to grow, and to populate the land. That’s why I was specifically focusing on larger families. Of course, on this particular image, you don’t see a lot of children, but somehow this became one of the main images for that project. And it was also one of the images submitted to them, the Canon Female Photojournalist Grant, which I won and which allowed me to continue working on this story.
Ilvy Njiokikjien: By the time you won, you won the award, the war wasn’t there yet, right? Because you won in 2019.
Anush Babajanyan: Yes. And then it was exhibited in Visa pour l’image in September 2020. And then only after that, at the end of September, the war began. So, but it’s, you know, either way, it’s always been important for me to show stories of this place, because before the war, it wasn’t photographed extensively. The issue of this disputed land wasn’t told broadly or by many photographers and journalists, so I wanted to work there as often as possible to show that, visualize this story. But, then during the war, it was covered quite well and extensively. Of course, now in the long aftermath, there aren’t photographers and journalists and in general, Nagorno-Karabakh doesn’t issue visas to foreigners. But yeah, at the time, it was covered well, but also with the city of Shushi, what happened is during the war it—by the end of the war, it fell under the control of Azerbaijan. It started, there was a territory in the north that was taken over and then also from the south, and it ended with this town, Shushi, being taken under Azerbaijan control, and then the war stopped on November 9. So, this city is one that I can no longer—I have no more access to this city and these children who are Armenian and any Armenians are no longer there. So, they left before November 9, and they can no longer step foot because—they left to Armenia or to other, to the capital, Stepanakert, of Nagorno-Karabakh or the capital of Armenia or other places. Mostly Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, but, or, some people so left to Russia.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Have you been in contact with some of the families because how many families did you photograph for the large family project?
Anush Babajanyan: I photographed many, but focused on maybe four of them. Four or five of them. Yes. In fact, Angela’s family, I wanted to keep photographing them, but I went to their home right after the war, and they were not there. I think by this time they have returned, because Marthakat, where their family comes from is— Armenians are there. But they weren’t there at the time. November, exactly one year ago, I visited and they were still probably in Armenia. But there was one family of 10 children that I did see during the days of the war, and then in Karabakh, and then back in Armenia during the war because it was too dangerous for them to stay. And then when they returned, so it was a family that I followed for a long time. And I still often do.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: So, out of all the— because you photograph several families and of course, when families are that large, I can imagine you have a lot of pictures because a lot is happening, I’m guessing. So, how did you specifically pick this image? Out of all, I mean, all the families.
Anush Babajanyan: There’s something about it. It’s like a fairy tale. I imagine, I try, I start to think of a fairy tale right away. There’s something poetic, something that maybe makes me think of a painting. Think of this dreamy state that the children might, must be in when they play inside a tree. So, why, it definitely makes me very emotional. And in fact, having worked there in Nagorno-Karabakh, which is also called Artsakh, it’s known to us as Artsakh, this land. So, having worked there for the last five years, I decided to also put together a book, which will include this story of large families, other images of everyday life that I’ve photographed over the years, the war in 2020, where it lasted a bit over a month, but I spent there about a week in total during those days. But in the end, I also photographed in the aftermath, and the war in 2016. So, images that show war and aftermath in everyday life, images that tell a person who would look through the pages, tell them how it really feels to live in Nagorno-Karabakh. I thought that, you know, now, after five years, it was time to really bring this together. And in fact this image is also one that symbolizes it, one of the main images in the campaign that’s ongoing, that’s happening now for this book on Kickstarter. So, yeah.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Check it out, everyone.
Anush Babajanyan: It has played a role.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah, I love this image because it’s so innocent. And in a way, it also tells that there is a bigger story behind it. You kind of know by looking at it. You just feel it, right? Even if you wouldn’t know. It’s—I don’t know.
Anush Babajanyan: I think so…
Ilvy Njiokikjien: There’s a question coming in. I was wondering why my screen was flashing. I don’t know if the same happened to your screen, but…
Anush Babajanyan: No, I’m screen sharing, so…
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: There is in the q&a, a question from Arie Haziza. And the question is, do you believe that photography can actually contribute to solving the issues? Or are you doing this work for documenting the human condition for future reference? Thank you.
Anush Babajanyan: So, if we’re talking about this work specifically—in general, if I answer the question in general, whether I think photography can make a difference, or solve issues, I suppose, yes. But probably rarely, in a very straightforward way. Like, they sometimes give the example of Vietnam and how it made a difference. So, think back then, and now as well, I think yes, pictures can definitely make a difference. But we don’t always see it in a straightforward way. Like, here is the picture and here the solution happened, but rather, step by step. Different images can leave this mark or make a person think about an issue or about a reality and then one thing will lead to another and yes, I think changes are possible and solutions can happen that way. And then in terms of my photography, yes, that’s been my hope as well, photographing in this place over the years since 2016. One, I have to be honest, I am a journalist. That’s true. But I’m also an Armenian person who has the ability to document something that is going on and something that myself and my people are going through. And so, I have not— I shouldn’t say, of course, but I made the choice to do it. And so, raising awareness about Nagorno-Karabakh and its issues has been one of my missions as a photographer, I can’t not state that. And so, I do hope that my photographs make a difference, help. I can’t say, of course, that they can make a big difference, but they can tell the story of ordinary people. How, and really, for me, it’s been one of the ways to really show people who are not Armenian how it feels for a person to live in Nagorno-Karabakh, particularly for Armenians see how it is for them to be here. And because the reality here is living in a constant fear of conflict and uncertainty, especially now. So, yes, at the same time—yeah, it’s coming to the second part of the question. Yes, it’s also a visual document. I also want to create this body of work that can stay as a document for the future as well. And in fact, the book is, has that particular purpose so that the images are not just somewhere in my archives or where, you know, on the Instagram or where will they be. It’s, I think, a proper, and logical development of this long term project of five years to come together in a way that allows them to really become a document in a book.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: When is the book coming out?
Anush Babajanyan: The release is planned for September 2022. So, now I’ve already started to work and develop the concept. And I really begin in December, once the campaign is over. So, for several months I will work on it and September 2022 is the release.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Beautiful, and I see you just shared the link. So, people, everyone check it out in the chat, right, not in the q&a. In the chat. Yeah, it’s in the chat. So shall we move to an even more difficult question, or is there anyone who wants to add, because I can—I would love to talk more about these pictures, or picture. And I also have more questions, but I’m not allowed. I can ask four questions. I think I’ve already asked about six or seven. But if anyone wants to ask anything, let’s just see and wait, if anyone wants to ask anything about this particular question, and otherwise, we’re going to move to the next one. No, okay. Yeah. Let’s go to the next question. You already know what the question is. I think everyone who’s watching and who’s been here before, probably also knows, but what is your biggest photo failure? And I don’t really like the word failure. Let’s rephrase that, like, which image didn’t turn out the way you wanted or thought it would? Or which story wasn’t exactly what you thought it would be?
Anush Babajanyan: Yeah, so, well, the answer to that question was even more difficult. Nothing surprising, but because I didn’t have just one answer. There are many occasions when we don’t get the picture that we imagined we would, and some for me would turn out—some of the cases that I consider failure would rather be not so much in the picture itself, but rather in miscommunicating, or when something didn’t happen with me on a personal level with the people who I hope to photograph. Now, that’s a real sad moment when that happens. While when a picture doesn’t turn out the way I would imagine it to be, that’s a little more, you know… Yes. Yes, Maggie, I’m going to show the photo. I’m just blabbering about what I prefer.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: I like it. I like it. The suspense is building, but I think Maggie couldn’t…
Anush Babajanyan: She couldn’t take it. I wanted to point out what exactly failure means to me. Yeah, failure on a human level is really failure. Failure on a visual level is— it’s our job. Sometimes it turns out, sometimes it doesn’t. Yeah, and this image, it was taken on the way towards my failure, as I was climbing towards it, because I was really climbing in Tajikistan last— well, actually, this year. It was this year, this summer. I traveled to Tajikistan to continue working on my story in Central Asia, which is related. I won’t go into too many details, but it related to environment and water. And so, one of my purposes for this particular climb and trip along these mountains was— along the river was to reach the glacier where the river was originating. And so, it was like this, what they sometimes call the climbing the mountain syndrome where you have a great story to tell about how you climbed the mountain, right, to take the photo. And it was, and then your photo was kind of like, eh. So, on the way it was really difficult. A lot of rivers to cross and rain and we got tired. Then we were climbing towards this glacier for about two days. And so, my hope was to see something interesting. And so, we get to the top, and I see the glacier. And it’s not white, as I imagined it. In my head, in my imagination, glaciers are ice and glaciers are white. But apparently glaciers aren’t. Some glaciers can be mixed with dirt, as was the case with this glacier. And it was melting into the river. Here, you can see it below, at the bottom of the photograph in this non-discreet manner. You know, it’s just like, eh. And apparently there were other small—what do you call them–like brooks, or, you know, that part which the glacier melts into the main river. So this was what it looked like. And, I tried and I tried, and no matter how I tried, it just wasn’t what I imagined.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: It’s still kind of beautiful, the image. It really is. But it’s—I can imagine it’s not the icy white.
Anush Babajanyan: Yeah, I guess. I don’t know…
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Was this an assignment? Or was this…
Anush Babajanyan: This was part of a project that I’m doing with the support of a grant from the National Geographic Society. So, it was a grant project. Well, what happens is, I don’t know, maybe this could look better in black and white. Maybe it wouldn’t. I have no idea, but this is what it was. But in the end, what I chose for the series, which is still in fact ongoing, is this image that I took along the way to the top of the mountain, which still is important for the story. This is not the glacier and I have another glacier, two other glaciers in other territories. So unfortunately, in this case, I’m not gonna have that. But I had this other part of the river that also told a story.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: And did it feel? I mean, this is the kind of failure that you, I mean, you couldn’t really know this, right? There was no— before going there, that was the only thing you could do, basically, to see what the glacier looked like, to go there. So, did you really feel that you failed as a photographer? Or was it— because you didn’t really do anything wrong. It’s not like you forgot your lens at home. Or, you know, like, there are certain failures that are…
Anush Babajanyan: Yes, that yeah… Yes, well, in this case, I really, couldn’t—there weren’t any pictures of this glacier. And I did, of course, ask the guides as much as I could what this place looks like. Is it green? Is it white? I don’t know. But, in reality, they didn’t know very well, either because they hadn’t been there in a long time. And so, I’m sorry, what was your question?
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Did it feel like a personal failure? Did it feel like you really failed? Or was it more like? Ugh. Yeah.
Anush Babajanyan: Yes. It felt— I didn’t feel good about it because I had spent a lot of time on that trip, for about three days in total, because getting to that village from where we started climbing also took long. So, I didn’t like that part of the reality, because I can’t just, every time I go on these trips, I can’t stay for as long as I want. And it’s not even so much the question of budget as the question of needing to return to my kids. So, I give myself a certain timeframe, like 10 days, in this case. Well, in the case of Tajikistan, it was 8 to 9. Anyway, but I didn’t feel good about spending too much time on something that didn’t feel, didn’t feel perfect… okay, I didn’t get what I imagined, but at least I was glad that I had this picture. And then maybe a couple more, that could be part of the overall project. But as it’s ongoing, and I still don’t know what will happen in the end. But the trip itself wasn’t hopeless. It’s okay.That’s why I show this image as well. And then, of course, it taught me a lot.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: What did what did it teach you?
Anush Babajanyan: It taught me to actually appreciate this climbing the mountain process. It taught me to appreciate our experience. It taught me that the end result does not need to be the only thing you care for. That, okay. Yes, speaking with editors, or mentors, yes, you should not use your experience as a justification to your— as something that makes your photograph better. Your experience does not make your photograph better. Your photograph speaks for itself. But, or it doesn’t speak. Just like silent.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Silent image.
Anush Babajanyan: So, but it does not mean that your experience doesn’t matter. It doesn’t mean that it’s just something that, ah, you know, it’s all in vain, all of those three days were in vain. No, they were not. They were very important for my communication, for my life. They were a part of my life. And it was actually so interesting that I could even write about it, which I just don’t give enough time to writing. But if I did, like, we have these adventures and they can be interesting on their own. It’s just that they didn’t, yeah, you can’t sum them up in an image. But you can write about them, or you can live with them and…
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: They are lessons just for you. I mean, and now you’re sharing as well. So it’s lessons to other people, but just to realize that it’s not about the end result only in cases like this. I mean, you learn so much more.
Anush Babajanyan: After all, why are we doing this? Right? It’ll be a lot of times we do this, because we love this life of the photographer. We love the experiences. Some of the things—then we give the images to people, but also in the process, what we get is a fulfillment, as a humble fulfillment, is this experience. Like, I think of your trips to South Africa. I’m sure they gave you a lifetime of memories, and just, you know…
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: I’m sure. In the end, it’s not only about the image or about the end result. There are a few questions coming in. Um, let me see. First one is from Margie, in the q&a. Is the glacier impacted by the effects of climate change?
Anush Babajanyan: Yes, yes. This glacier is impacted by the effects. It’s melting very quickly, as a lot of glaciers are on a very fast pace. Everything is impacted by climate change.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: There’s a lot of stories to make on… Let me see in the chat, Petra says, I find your field image beautiful and fascinating as most of us imagine glaciers as white, myself included. So, from an environmental perspective, quite interesting reminder that glaciers are massive movers and transformers of the landscape. To me, this image is an excellent visual illustration of this. That was from Petra, which I totally agree to, and Sara says the same, she says, or something similar: Anush it’s a good photograph, even if it was a failure in getting the image you thought you wanted. But that’s what I love as well about this—Thanks for the comments, by the way, both both of you. That’s what I love about this job, even though I never really see it as a job. But, just being a photographer, the fact that, I mean, the images that you sometimes end up with, that were not planned. For good or for bad. I mean, it goes both ways. But it’s always a lesson and it’s always amazing, kind of that you can be surprised by what you’re going to see. I mean, yeah, I think, you know, like, every day, we shoot different things, and it’s always different, and you never know what you’re gonna get. I guess this glacier is a good example of that. You are expecting a white, beautiful icy glacier. And here you are, total difference.
Anush Babajanyan: Sometimes things come unexpected in a great way and sometimes in a way that can be disappointing.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: There are two more questions in the q&a, but one is from Simona and goes back to your previous, but we are going to answer it because I think she was typing when I said let’s wait a minute, and then we moved on. She says, Hi, Anush. My question is how do you find your way to photographing the families and their homes? Do you think it is easier as you are Armenian? And do colleagues who speak another language and come from another cultural background have more difficulties?
Anush Babajanyan: Yes, I won’t take too long in answering because we don’t have a lot of time, but it’s never easy to find your way into a home. But it takes time. It takes humility. It’s part of our jobs. We have to be simple, simply ourselves and human and just talk to people, explain who we are, why we’re doing this and ask kindly eventually, whether we can also photograph so. But that takes time and intuition, understanding when is the right time to ask and whether it is at all a good idea to approach a family. So, it’s not easy, but it’s just part of our job. And then, Do you think it’s easier if you’re Armenian? Sometimes it’s easier because I know the language and other times it’s not so straightforward because a lot of times people are comfortable with strangers, people who are even far stranger than I am. Foreigners might be easier to communicate with them in terms of being able to just open up, because the person is far from your culture, but also can be easy with me because I am a woman speaking with a woman. So, there are different angles to that. And yeah, not one answer, definitely. And do colleague who speak another language and another culture have more difficulties? Yes, sometimes they do. But if they have a translator, then it’s not very complicated. But there is an important factor that any of these colleagues should do—and sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t—is researching, learning enough about the culture, spending as much time as needed for any story. It’s the questions that we talk about a lot. And it’s my job as well, when I work in Central Asia, to really work diligently when entering the homes of people whose language I don’t speak. So. But in Nagorno Karabakh or in Armenia, I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a privilege knowing the language, but knowing the culture very much helps. It’s very important. Okay.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Thanks for answering, we’re gonna wait with Stefan’s question, because I have a feeling that we might get to that in the fourth question. If not, then we’re gonna still answer it. But let’s go to number three, because you are right, the time is passing by very quickly. So the third question for you is, what would be your dream story or image? Something, I mean, it can even be something that you might never be able to shoot like something outrageous, or something that you still want to work on in the near future? Could be anything.
Anush Babajanyan: Oh, it’s lovely the way you say this, because when I was thinking about the answer, I didn’t think it should be, it could be outrageous. Yeah, I would love to photograph aliens and cultures that we have no idea about at all. That would be great, but in terms of reality, and what we can actually work on is, I have this idea to try and visualize the story of the German side of my family. My grandmother was German, and they were from Ukraine and they were persecuted during World War II. So, they have to travel to Kazakhstan, and then to Tajikistan, and then also to Armenia. And then my grandmother and my aunt’s family spent the—my grandmother spent her last years in Germany, and my aunt’s family’s still there. So, I’m very curious about this story. And there are a lot of branches to it. So, I would love to follow that. And I caught up on some of it while working in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan already.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: That’s more of a reflective story, right? I mean, it’s a different approach, I guess, than the work you’ve been doing so far? Or would it be in the same kind of way, by portraying people and go to people’s homes to families? Or, because you also have to look back, kind of. Archival images, maybe? I don’t know.
Anush Babajanyan: Yeah it’s very different from what I usually do. But I’m very curious and I have to think about it more, understand the approaches. The, you know, with these personal stories, yeah, like the archive is one thing that comes to mind. But at the same time, you don’t want it to be very, too much based on the archive. So, you know, something to think about, but it is what I’m very curious about. And I try to make sure to keep the story in mind every time I work in Central Asia.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Beautiful
Anush Babajanyan: Of the places that kind of connect. And in Tajikistan there was something that I also photographed that was very important.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Oh, so you started already?
Anush Babjanyan: A little bit. Yeah. While I was there. I used some of the time for that as well.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Nice. Okay, that will be the next book after this one.
Anush Babajanyan: Yes, I hope so. To solve, really to solve, because that type of a story I haven’t worked on yet.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: That’s a different approach. Right? I’m also currently looking into doing a more personal story. And I realized, I will have to look at different kinds of tools to tell this story. From the way I have been photographing, I want to do it in a different way, because it’s a different type of story to look at your own family’s history. Yeah. Looking forward to it.
Anush Babajanyan: Yeah, I will have to see how to do it. But yeah, this, in this time of my life, I think after photographing for about maybe 12 years or so, I think I feel like a change. I feel like adding, either adding a layer to what I already do, writing more, and I do write more, or maybe changing something, adding something. You know, we all need to somehow reinvent ourselves time after time, after we’ve done something in a certain way for a long time. So, I can say that I’m definitely in that, on that stage in my career when I feel I’m needing a change. Not a radical change.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah, just a different way of storytelling.
Anush Babajanyan: Yes, definitely.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: OK, Anush, we’re onto the last question, which is actually my favorite one. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say that. But what would be your advice to your younger self as a photographer, or as a person? Yeah.
Anush Babajanyan: Um, well, as you spoke about it, it’s something that does repeat. And it’s because we’re all too human, all of us. It is to be more confident, to not compare yourself to anybody, and not to think or imagine that you’re—this or that photographer is already better, has already done this. So, who are you to do this? Not to think that you’re not worthy of approaching this particular person or editor. Yeah, basically, being confident is what sums it up. But at the same time, I wouldn’t say, you know, that I should be overly confident because that can really take you in some situations where you can make mistakes, where you can be a person who you would later regret. Like, not having enough humility on the ground when photographing. If you’re overly confident about something like, here I am the photographer who I imagined myself to be, you know, breaking those barriers, entering those homes, that, you know, we have to really try and think well about what we do, think deeply and be on this, try to play a smart game, not to be too— not to put ourselves down too much and not to take ourselves up, wherever, too high. We have to understand who we are, work on our weaknesses, and, you know, really pay attention at our strengths. And not think or imagine ourselves better than we are either.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: What a beautiful answer. Yeah, so yeah, I think a lot of people watching now will probably recognize this. I’m guessing I’m not the only one that was sitting there like, Uh huh. Yeah. Yeah. So true.
Anush Babajanyan: I still do that. I could give that advice to myself now.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yes, yeah. Yeah, me too. I’m guessing that also answers Stefan’s question about the most important advice for young documentary photographers.
Anush Babajanyan: Yes, yes. It definitely is this matter of confidence, but not overly high confidence is important. But because if you give yourself some of it, you will eventually have this step on which you can put yourself. And then another step, and then another step, and you will create this foundation on which you’re standing. And on which you are also—yeah, which is, not your confidence, but which is you, which is you as a photographer, and then at the same time, and all along, for young documentary photographers. And not only amateur but professional for all of us, which always keep in mind that important matter of humility, which should go hand in hand with confidence. So if we could sort of keep that balance, I think things can go well, but sometimes we either are on this side of things or that side of things, and that doesn’t turn out helpful.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: No, it’s great to be in the middle of all of that, but not easy. I mean, I guess it’s all about knowing yourself and knowing what you want and what you’re capable of. And not being arrogant. Like it’s being confident enough to also push yourself forward, and not just, like, stop working, because you’re afraid to whatever, pitch projects or you’re afraid that a colleague is doing better than you. It’s, I mean, that’s a very common one that you mentioned. And then you don’t start a project. Yeah. No, it’s beautiful. Thanks so much. Anush. There’s a question coming in from Arie. I haven’t read it yet. So, how do you find the balance between doing a personal story that may be of interest to you and family? And linking it to the broader public? Oh, what a great question.
Anush Babajanyan: It is as if you’re reading a book, right? Or a story. A lot of stories that are written and, in fact, photographed to connect to people on a very human level. They’re just stories of people. And so, the way would be, probably, to photograph it in a way and to tell it in a way that connects with people on that, in that field, sort of in that area of your being of your brain, where you’re just human, living your everyday life, having your problems and issues. And here, there were these other people who are living their everyday lives, and then these huge issues started to come at them that were bigger than them. And they pushed these families through, you know, from one place to the other just because they happen to be of, well, I’m giving the example of my own personal story that I was telling you about, that. They’re, just because they happen to be Germans in Russian territories. So, how, you know, why did it happen? And it’s the pain of people that connect to the viewer, or it’s the simple, the poetry of what you’re seeing through images that can connect. A lot of things can connect, but it’s mostly the stories. And it’s not an easy answer to say whether you should create images in order to answer this question of this short story, to give you yourself an answer, to tell the story to yourself or to understand the story, when you’re dealing with personal stories. Or to tell it in a way where you’re telling to the viewers— like an outward oriented, like an external story, not an external one, but when you’re looking at your audience, where you’re talking to your audience, rather than solving it for yourself. So, I can’t necessarily say that we should definitely, like, try to solve this for ourselves, because that might not be right for a particular story. And so, I think there is a balance. There are many possibilities to find a balance, it’s just about finding your way of telling this story, you know, and…
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: There’s always a link, right, because people recognize the story. I mean, the story that you have, there will be many people maybe recognizing it. And the same goes for other personal stories for broader public. You’re right.
Anush Babajanyan: Yeah. And then there have been personal stories told well, and those that haven’t been told so well. So, maybe that means that, you know, such stories didn’t find this balance. Who knows.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: I think if people want to start personal projects, I’m, well, you might be as well, I guess, guiding some mentees inside of VII, but also outside. And a lot of the people that I mentoring want to work on personal stories and many of them are nervous to kind of show it to the outside world because they feel their story is not important enough to other people. And I always think well, just make it. And then the people that are interested, they will find you. I mean, there’s always common ground to be found. And I think as well, personal subjects or personal stories, many of the times are about bigger subjects like World War II or insecurity or, and I mean, could be any subject and I think that broader subject is the subject that’s of interest to a broader public, I guess.
Anush Babajanyan: Yes, yes, yes, that, yeah, you can definitely create that connection as well. And then I think, for this balance to exist a lot of times, even more in the case of personal stories, than in our other type of storytelling, we have to be honest. The photographer really has to be honest, in this case. And by honest, I mean, in general in the work, while while she works, while he works in this process. If they are honestly thinking about the viewer while creating this, if there may be in conversation with the viewer, in communication. Maybe it’s some kind of Instagram project where they, you know, post things and the comments make a difference for their project. Whatever it is. So thinking about the viewer is not a bad thing is what I’m trying to say. Most importantly, this honesty is what really matters in this case. That way, in the least, in the end, you will know that you have done this to the best of your ability. You have told it the way you honestly wanted and whatever happened with it, you’re just going to have to live with it. And of course we’ll work hard on it not to rush it you know, to let it out into the world, to assume…
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: That is good advice. That is such a good advice to any photographer. Don’t rush it, don’t push it out too soon. There’s one last comment and then we have to round it up because we’re going over time. Ut oh.
Anush Babajanyan: Okay. Okay.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: It’s from Margie. I think it’s a common question. In a world of refugees, there’s common ground for all of us, I think. Yeah, totally agree.
Anush Babajanyan: Yes. Yes.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Sadly, but true. Anush, thanks so much for being part of this, being so vulnerable and having such lovely and smart answers. I knew that was gonna happen, but it was lovely having you. And I see— I don’t know if you’re seeing it, but there’s a lot of love as well in the comments.
Anush Babjanyan: I can see the messages. Thank you, everyone. Thank you and I’m sorry for the little break. Thank you. Thank you.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: And please check out the Kickstarter that Anush has. The link is in—if you scroll up in the chat, you’ll find it for her book, Troubled Home. So scroll it.
Anush Babajanyan: Yes. Thank you for that, Ilvy. And I can see everyone’s messages. Thanks, everyone. And thank you for inviting me to this chat. It was really good. It was lovely.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Thanks for being part of it. And to everyone listening, please tune in for the next one. Unfortunately, I don’t know what— I think I’m the next one. Because Sara, but I’m not sure, on the 14th of December. There’s a next episode where Sara Terry will be interviewing me. So, we’re going to turn the rules, but I’m not 100% sure if that is the next episode. I think it is the next one. But please just check out the VII Insider website and you’ll find all the details. Thanks.
Anush Babajanyan: Sara says December 13. Okay!
Oh, I thought the 14th. Oh, oh. Your today’s host is not very up to date, but we’ll check it. Oh, there’s David. Check the website, he says. Okay, guys, and thanks for being here. Thanks, Anush.
Anush Babajanyan: Thank you.