Artists' Union of Armenia, Yerevan

Exhibition organised by Lusadaran Armenian Photography Foundation and KulturDialog Armenien Foundation

Gagik Harutyunyan’s (b. 1946) first retrospective exhibition ‘Shadows of Time’ shines a spotlight on the overlooked heritage of late-20th century Soviet-Armenian photography. Harutyunyan’s practice evolved in a context that was not favourable for photography. In Soviet Armenia, professional photographers were relegated to the news media or were interned in portrait studios and photography was never officially accepted as a serious artistic medium. Such attitudes began to noticeably change in the 1970s-90s, when a number of more daring photographers, editors and contemporary artists entered the scene, attempting to establish photography’s significance for the ideas of modernity. Gagik Harutyunyan’s input in this process is of fundamental relevance.

Fascinated by photography from his teens, Harutyunyan began to collaborate with many of Soviet periodicals since 1971 and was frequently sent on overseas assignments as a photo-correspondent of the Armenian Society for Cultural Cooperation with Foreign Countries (AOKS). He is the only Soviet-Armenian photographer to have pictured Africa and has produced distinctive series dedicated to Latvia, Estonia, France, Austria, Belgium and other countries. Such industrious work ethic quickly brought Harutyunyan wide recognition as one of the best documentary photographers working in the Armenian republic, as noted by the newspaper ‘Komsomolets’ in 1984. However, the artist’s primary objective was to turn to the exploration of the momentous issues present in his reality by simultaneously using photography as a tool for documentation and questioning. Of particular concern to him were the complex relationships between humans and the natural environment, the individual and society – topics, which he began to address through the innovative format of analytical series. Directing his camera at mundane and insignificant subject matter, Harutyunyan aimed to transcend the borders of empirical consciousness in order to detect the philosophical fabric of the visible world.

Harutyunyan’s aesthetic approaches were formed through the synthesis of often conflicting stylistic trajectories such as social-realism and surrealism, which were fused into strikingly simplified forms. Similarly, experiences and phenomena in his photography coalesce over lengthy investigations that carefully combine ‘captured’ and staged imagery. Pushed into an allegorical dimension, the photograph becomes not a reflection but the transformation of the real and directs the viewer towards critical and spiritual contemplation. These ideas are crystallised in Harutyunyan’s series of the early 1990s, such as ‘Lake’, ‘Karabagh’ and ‘Poultry Farm’. They document a time of catastrophe and war in Armenia, which for Harutyunyan appears as a fragment that articulates an overall human condition incessantly recurring throughout time. The photographer paid special attention to the production of his prints, emphasizing them as fully fledged art objects. Presented at his solo exhibitions and especially on the pages of the literary-critical journal ‘Garun’, these works contributed to the development of artistic perceptions of photography in Armenia and significantly influenced the following generation of local photographers. Deeply disillusioned by the uncertain atmosphere in his professional sphere at the end of the 1990s, Harutyunyan destroyed most of his vintage prints and abandoned his creative metier.

Two hundred of his remaining negatives have been restored and printed anew during the six year duration of this project. Summarising Harutyunyan’s career trajectory under the thematic rubrics of ‘Land’, ‘Inhabitants’, ‘City’, ‘History’ and ‘Time’, many of the 183 photographs assembled in ‘Shadows of Time’ and its accompanying catalogue are presented to the public for the first time. Organised by the joint efforts of Lusadaran Armenian Photography Foundation and KulturDialog Armenien Foundation, the exhibition highlights the evolution of Harutyunyan’s vision from the photographer’s poetic depictions of Armenia in the 1970s to the philosophically unsettling questioning that marks his last series. In its multilateral scope ‘Shadows of Time’ confirms the crucial importance of this artist for the history of modern and contemporary Armenian art. 

Vigen Galstyan 


Lusadaran Armenian Photography Foundation