An Armenian archive

It is curious how things turn up. The memories project that I’m running at the ‘Echoes Group’ has the attendees searching for photographs and 3D objects that be be placed into a photomontage that presents (hopefully) a singular narrative. Mine will be a memory of my family, my work and if I can get time travel. The ‘Users’ are focussing mainly on family – weddings, loved ones, military service and it is really inspiring to see them bring faded memories to the fore and tell, quite excitedly, stories from their past.

I hope to use these memories as part of the investigation into ‘Identity’, how I can portray individuals by not showing their physical presence, but bring a real sense of a part of them to the fore by telling a story that is strongly linked to them. The project has only just started and will take until the middle of July before it gets finished. There is a prospect to involve a textile artist to perhaps use the photo montage narratives as the basis for a 3D object – but that is in early thoughts.

However something else has turned up. One of the users who, I think, was a professor in the University here in Oxford has an archive of 4000 prints of turn of the century Armenian life. This archive came into his possession more than a score or more years ago whilst the owner, and one of the people in the archive, was still alive. Another in the archive was, apparently, Calouste Gulbenkian, whose foundation was approached to provide funding to help preserve this archive, to which the foundation granted the request. The original prints in a large number of albums were all re-photographed and the process of annotating them was begun by a ‘mature student’ at the University, the photographer did the work, there exists a negative and re-print of all 4000 prints, however the annotation had to be abandoned after 300 prints as the lady passed away. I was approached with this archive to see what I thought, and I suppose I am slightly overwhelmed, but extremely interested in working with the user to find a way to place this archive into a domain that provides value to historians, anthropologists, historians as well as investigating it as part of an installation. The user is planning a weeks study at the British Library later this month and will also seek the possibility of more funding to develop the work.

From the sample of prints that I have seen so far – see below for an even smaller selection – the archive splits into two broad categories (I am fully prepared that they may be more categories) of family oriented images and images of the social environment.

img100 img102 img103 img104 img105 img106

I have about twenty prints here, but will take (temporary) possession of two or three boxes of prints and negatives next week. I have no idea where this project may take me, nor what it might mean to either me or my studies. I have though an expectation that there would be a enormous amount of work to try and make sense of the 4000 prints.


6 thoughts on “An Armenian archive

      • Thanks for your offer Eddy. I have no idea where this will lead, I suspect I may be asking for help from within the University, or at least an archivist of some sort. I’ll post on it’s development and bear your offer in mind.

  1. What a wonderful opportunity. I could even call it a gift to be entrusted with such precious material from Armenia’s social history. I’m sure you’ll handle it well.

  2. One of the issues of course is that it is a ‘user’ that owns the archive and I will need to tread very carefully so as not to exacerbate his condition.

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