Diana Markosian, the Armenian-American photographer best known for her stunning revisitation of the Beslan massacre, has been awarded The Chris Hondros Fund’s first Emerging Award.
“This so much more than an award for me. Chris was a friend. He supported me from the first day we met,” Markosian tells BJP. “I want to up my game and create something even more personal. I owe it to him. ”
Markosian met Chris Hondros when she was a graduate student, before the photojournalist was killed alongside Tim Hetherington on 20 April 2011 while on assignment in Libya. She will receive a $5000 grant from the organisation, which will go toward her next project.
“My work comes from within,” Markosian says of her developing photography career. “I am constantly searching for a moment of silence between myself and whatever it is I am photographing. It is an emotional process that transcends anything else I’ve experienced. It is ultimately an expression of myself: all of my feelings, revealed in a moment, in an image.”
“There is a sensitivity and compassion to the work of Diana Markosian that belies her years,” comments Fiona Rogers, global business development manager at Magnum Photos. “The strength of her photography is rooted in the confidence with which she owns and understands her subject, be it the Beslan massacre, or her own absent father. By combining her own visual storytelling ability alongside archival and found photography, Markosian delivers a truly authentic and moving account, resulting in her viewer’s total absorption in, and commitment to, the story.”
Last year was quite a turning point for the 25-year-old photographer, who was named Firecracker Grant Winner in September for Inventing My Father, a highly charged series about find and reconnecting with her estranged father from whom she was separated when she was seven. Markosian’s mother abandoned the marital home in Moscow one day, emigrating to California with Diana and her young brother; she never even had the chance to say goodbye to him. Her mother cut her father’s image out of all the family photos and in time Markosian forgot what he looked like.
“I stopped thinking about him and instead invented my own father. I had a cast of characters; the black man on TV who wore bright sweaters. He lived in New York or Chicago. Then there was Jason Seaver from the TV show Growing Pains,” says Markosian. At 22, she eventually travelled to Armenia, where her father had settled, in search of the man whose face had been all but wiped from her memory. And so begins Inventing My Father, a project she doubts will ever be finished.
“There is a wound inside and I only now recognise how deep it is. In a way, this piece is just the beginning. I’ve spent the last two years documenting our relationship in the hope that I can share my story with others like me,” she says. “I want this piece to be collaboration between us… it is my life.”
With the Chris Hondros coming off the back of the resounding success of Inventing My Father (featured in the gallery here) as well as a major feature of her work about the Beslan massacre published in The Sunday Times Magazine last November, along with stories in The New Yorker, Time LightBox, and on blogs including Wired’s Raw File and The New York Times’ Lens blog, Markosian is rapidly making a name for herself in photojournalism and beyond.
Last year, she received four nominations for BJP’s annual Ones to Watch issue – one from Rogers, who founded Firecracker in 2011 to promote European women in photography; one from Emma Bowkett, photography director at the Financial Times FT Weekend Magazine; one from James Estrin, co-editor of The New York Times Lens blog, and another from Arthur Herrman of the Kummer & Herrman design studio.
It’s easy to see why. Whether tackling personal subject matter or traumatic, historic events, her stories are conveyed intelligently, honestly and sensitively. “She is a terrific photographer who is both brave and vulnerable at the same time,” says Estrin.
“Her bravery allows her to push herself both physically and emotionally, and to challenge herself to go deeper into her stories. Her vulnerability allows her to feel what her subjects are feeling… Every one of Diana’s stories have rigorous journalistic and artistic grounding.”
Markosian works on personal projects between assigmnent work for National Geographic, photographing in the Caucasus and collaborating on a book and a multimedia video based on her Beslan work.
“I wanted to break the distance I had with my subjects as a photojournalist,” she explains. “I wanted my subjects to participate in the process of telling this story. What really turns me on is finding my vision, my voice… It feels like I’m just getting started.”