Monday, April 28, 2008

last day in Armenia

Monday- the below entry didn’t make it up- old news for me already for me- spent a full day in Gyumri and have a much more complete photo series to work on the flight back to NYC. Gyumri is the place in Armenia that has most captured my interest behind the camera.

back blog-Sunday in Yerevan, having a beer in an Internet cafĂ© near where I’m staying. Today I shot in Vandazor at a home for elderly people that FAR is respondisble for. The residents seemed very happy to get the extra attention my visit brought them .I had Lusy (who works for FAR) ask questions to each of the people, like how long they lived there and who they came to the home. Most of the residents’ children’s were off in Russia where they went to find work and were brought to the facility so they would be cared for. The residents will live out their days there.

Tomorrow my last day of this trip I will return to Gyumri to shoot at a music school for kids and shoot more of the people who are living in “containers.” After the earthquake that almost leveled the town 20 years ago this December, many people were given metal containers to live in. At first I was shocked that people were living in such abject conditions, then I learned a bit more of the story. Like New Orleans' recovery the story is not black and white. Many of the people who are still living in containers have recovered grant money- only to squander it or buy apartments and sell them to others yet remaining in there contraries. The containers are make shift metal shacks, and were not made to withstand 20 years of habitation and many of them are clearly hazards places to live. I heard how many have burnt to death when there containers catch fire due to make shift stoves and how others freeze to death in the harsh winter.

People were happy to tell their stories, just like Victims of Katrina, and invited me into their homes to photograph. I will shoot as many interiors as I can tomorrow, and learn more about Gyrumri past and present.

I have also had the chance to visit some of Armenia’s churches dating back to the 4th century. Notes and images of those places to follow.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

the night of April 23rd and April 24th in Armenia

Last night thousands marched to the Armenian Genocide Memorial holding candles and torches marking the eve of the 93rd anniversary of the Genocide. Many of marches had banners demanding Turkey recognize the massacres as genocide.
There were other banners saying: "Save Europe! Keep Turkey out of the EU!"

Today President Serzh Sarkisian attended the ceremonies in the late morning at the memorial. I elbowed my way in for position and got shots of him next to the head of the Armenian church who said a prayer for the dead.

I’m not great at estimating crowds but I’d have to say there were at least 500,000 when I was there (I left at 12 noon to upload some images and will return once this is posted). People wait their turn after walking up a long path in the bright sun to lay a flower by the eternal flame at the monument's center. The pile of flowers forming around the eternal flame was already waste high when I left- tulips, lilacs,and carnations making up most of the mix.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

back blogging

Between the internet being down and overloading hours of shooting in the coarse of my days, my blog entries for my trip to Armenia turn out to be more of a running account of what I’m up to, here is what I have got so far….

My second day in Yerevan (April 18th), FAR, an organization doing humanitarian work in Armenia took me to shot at some of its programs. I started out at a hospital interns are trained. I got to shot a surgeon in action removing cancer from a man's stomach. Next stop was a soup kitchen that serves 250 people one meal a day (5 days only). The kitchen used to serve even more patrons but had to cut back due to lack of funds. It is located in an abandoned stone-polishing factory. Most of the population worked polishing stone or cutting diamonds, all but about 10% lost their jobs when Armenia became independent after the fall of the Soviet Union. Poverty is prevalent since many of the factories closed down and no other industry has been developed in the area. The soup kitchen serves as more then a place to get a meal; it is also a social hall. A few couples have met there and married. On from there I was taken to The Children’s Reception and Orientation Center, a place where displaced children are kept and cared for until a family member or orphanage is found to place them with. The first child I took pictures of was a three-year-old girl whose mother was sent to prison. The center found her grandmother, where she will be moved. The center is a transitory location for displaced children from 3- 18 years of age. They remain at the center up to 18 days.

Saturday, I went to Noraduz near the shores of lake Serevan, where ancient tombstones, up to a thousand of then are in the graveyard on the town’s outskirts. The graveyard also has a section still in use today. One large funeral party was being held while I was visiting, also a smaller memorial where three men were getting drunk in front of a grave. They offered me some vodka, which I declined. Armenian home brewed vodka is tough stuff as I had found out my second night in town. The ancient part of the cemetary was unlike anything I have ever scene. I found myself equally fascinated by Armenian’s current style of tombs. I visit graveyards in most places I visit. By visiting cemeteries in each place I visit I gain insight into the culture. Each locality has a different prodominant style that most of the graves mimic, making each graveyard distinctive. In Armenia one identifying style is the engraving of peoples faces and sometimes full bodies on black tombstone that serves as ghostlike portraits of the dead.

Sunday I started my day at Yerevan’s fleamarket. Armenian kitsch makes up most of the items available. Mt. Ararat paintings filled the markets parememter. One can buy items ranging from hardware to puppies( image of puppies in car trunk; from paintings to medical implements. Next up I left the city and went to one of the mostly visited touristic sites, the Garni Temple, a pagan temple originally built in 7780 by king Trdat 1st and to there Geghart built in 1215, a church that serves as a tourist destination and an active place of worship. ( image of young girls is shot in the church)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

late night post from Yerevan Armenia

I arrived safe and sound in Yerevan on the 16th. Finding a fast internet connection was a challenge but I have found the right spot and it is 3 blocks from where I'm staying. Shot the female cop image- a detail from an advertisement for a nightclub, and the image with man and woman in the glasses in Yerevan my first day wondering around. The Mermaid is from the shores of lake Servan. Now Armenia is represented in my sign painting series. Like elsewhere in the world when I stopped to take shots of the signs people looked at me suspiciously wondering what I was up to. I think people don't notice signs they walk by on a daily basis, or the ones they drive by quickly. They stop me in my tracks, but I guess I am hunting for new ones all the time.  Yerevan is a gritty yet elegant city. Tomorrow I will check out a fleamarket and make my way to the genocide museum.  Now i'll head back and get some sleep happy to know I can upload a lengthier entry soon. The contrast between old and new is extreme here. I will post more images soon.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

19 dead American soldiers the week ending today in Iraq

This last week was the bloodiest week for US soldiers in Iraq to date this year, the headlines read this morning. I started thinking of Arlington West in Santa Monica where crosses for each of the dead are set up in the sand.  It has been almost a year since I last took photos there. 19 symbolic coffins would have been carried out this morning and taken away again at sunset. The number of dead "19" would have been written on the sign that changes weekly with the weekly death count. I looked through some of my old shots and found one that would match the sign on the beach today, and decided to post it. I shot these two images at Arlington West on the week ending on Christmas day 2006. More of my work from Arlington west can be seen on my website  Hasn't Bush claiming that the surge is going well? I guess well is a relative term.

Two films on the Armenian Genocide and meeting an anti-Semite in Las Vegas

I met the man in the top image last November in Las Vegas, at the Rio Casino. A mime by profession, in this instance dressed as Charlie Chaplin . He noticed me working and flirted with me since he considered me to be a fellow artist. The Rio puts on a free racy stage show, with scantly clad dancers performing badly choreographed dance routines every half hour on the hour from 5. till 10. The mime, invited me to go out with him after work. He tried to impress me with his intelligence and started to talk about politics while spewing his anti-Semitic beliefs. "The Jews control everything", "the richest Jews left Europe and came to the USA from where they helped start the Holocaust". I have heard many racist comments but this one was new to me. I’m pretty sure it hadn’t occurred to him that I was Jewish. That or he wanted to get a rise out of me I’m not sure. I was not expecting to start up intellectually stimulating conversations with strangers in Las Vegas; my only intention was to shoot a new portfolio worth of work. Listening to anti- Semitic conspiracy theories, I can do with out. This man’s random rantings reminded me how ingrained anti-Semitism and racism are in our culture.

Last night I watched Atom Egoyan's film, "Ararat" (2002 release) about the Armenian Genocide after watching a documentary on the same topic, sent to me by The Genocide Archive Project in Boston. It was interesting to compare a purely historic telling of the Armenian Genocide to Egoyan’s personal approach. (Arrat mixes a fictitious story with historic detail) Though I hadn't seen either of the films before, it felt like I knew them both already. The number of dead varies form one genocide to the next, but the actions of the perpetrators against the citizens are not much different. The resulting photographic images of the carnage are almost interchangeable. I Think Arrat is a bold film  and I'm glad to have seen it before my trip.

I went to Vegas to create a series photo editors might more readily respond to, since my pitches with other dark topics haven’t been met with much enthusiasm. The resulting portfolio of images captures my general impressions of one of America’s flashiest cities, from the strip to the foreclosure signs. However no matter what I do my other project follows me; outside the casino NY, NY, is a monument those who lost there lives in the World Trade Center. I stumbled upon Vegas’ Sept. 11th Monument, directly across from MGM’s lion. The last image in this posting is from the Sept. 11th Memorial. A quote from George W. Bush. The quote says, "Like other generations of Americans, we will meet the responsibility of defending human liberty against violence and aggression. By our courage, we will give hope to others. And by our actions, we will secure the peace and lead the world to a better day".                                                     

Friday, April 11, 2008

Today's Crusades

I made more preparations for my trip today, though it was hard to concentrate, since there is a major construction project involving masonry going on where I am staying.  

I left the racket the workers were making behind, and headed out into a grey humid day. Daffodils along the bike path made up for the lack of sunshine. I got a second dose of spring on my return trip, while riding through a stretch of blossoming cherry trees, giving me a momentary hallucination that I was in Kyoto, though in reality I was next to the West Side Highway 

Yesterday I saw a film that will be released next week. "Constantine's Sword" a film by Errol Morris featuring  James Carroll as the narrator and screen writer. The film is a combination of his biography and his book about Constantine's Sword, A history of the crusades. I am a fan of James Carroll's writing and thinking, (I read his articles that are often in the Boston Globe at, a site that posts alternative news from different media outlets) and though I don't think this film is very good (music too schmaltzy, too many obvious establishing shots; the film overall needed a tighter edit) it was a great film to watch all the same.  Carroll put the war on terror in context by reminding me Bush had proclaimed the war on terror to be a crusade. Terminology his PR people had to spin shortly after Bush addressed the nation the day the invasion of Afghanistan began. Bush's proclamation that we had embarked on a new crusade eerily reverberated through the screening room. 
The film is a history lesson on the persecution of the Jews over the last two thousand years and the how the church has been complicit in disotrorting  historic facts that have fueled anti-Semitism. Carroll shows how racism feeds the  fanaticism that threatens the world today- and warns of the danger that comes about when military power and religious fervor are joined together. 
When it comes to war, there is a litany of justifications for murder and other brutal acts committed. I have always questioned the idea of killing in the name of god. This film draws parallels to what is going on today and the crusades, which were full of state/church sanctioned mass murder.  I wonder, if god take sides in war and if he/she really gives people permission to kill.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

First blog entry from Edgecombe Ave.

From my friend's apartment on Edgecombe Ave in Harlem, I begin a blog. A place where I will write my travel/shooting adventrues and daily revelations  (when I have ones worth sharing).  

I am getting ready for a trip to Armenia where I will shoot at the Tsiternakaberd Memorial (genoicde memorial) on April 24th, Armenia's Rememberance Day. Jason Sohigian recently interviewed me about my upcomming trip for the Armenina Weekly in Boston and Hetq. online magazine from Yeravan.While in Armenia I plan to shot for some humanitarian organizations as well, including the one Jason works for, the Armenian Tree Project,  an organization that is reforesting parts of Armenia.

 Yesterday I rode my bike down and then cross town on 34th St. to meet the director of the Fund for Armenian Relief to talk about what I could shoot for them. At a traffic light I to took a cell phone shot of the Empire State Building. The city all new to me from the vantage point of my bike seat, my preferred method of transportion since returning to NYC in September last year. Later I ended up at the Strand bookstore where I found "The Last Survivor" on the history book table. It is the first book cover my photography graces. The book is about a man claiming to be a suvivor of Dachau, who hangs out there giving unofficial tours, who most likely is not a survivor at all, just a crazy person obsessed with history. My assignment was to capture the essence of the town of Dachau. At the same time I shot the museum and grounds of the former concentration camp for my project on Dark Tourism sites around the world.  Of all the books on all the many tables at the Strand, to find one of my images right before me was kind of special. Hence, I took another cell phone shot, with my sneakers included in the foreground.