Sara Anjargolian: Photographs from Armenia

By Adriana Tchalian

Sara Anjargolian is something of a find in the Armenian community. She is a Los Angeles-based photographer–writer–and attorney. She is also a busy woman. She recently spent several years in Armenia as a Fulbright scholar–until settling in Los Angeles in 2005. Anjargolian is now working as a policy advisor and a deputy city attorney for Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Degadillo.

Anjargolian’s upcoming exhibition–titled Return: Photographs from Armenia–features her photographs from her time there. As the title suggests–the exhibition chronicles her "return" to her native soil–one beset with all the difficulties of a nation in transition. The exhibition is set to take place at Harvest Gallery–938 North Brand Boulevard–in Glendale–California. It will run from Friday–May 6 through Sunday–May 8–with a special artist’s reception on Friday–May 6–from 6 to 10 p.m.

During her years in Armenia–she worked at Bars Media–a documentary film studio based out of Yerevan. According to Anjargolian–"My time at Bars Media allowed me to gain a truer–deeper understanding of the challenges facing Armenia today both through the process of documentary filmmaking and by working very closely with the local artists and filmmakers on the studio staff."

Anjargolian also taught at the American University of Armenia Law Department–where she later served as Assistant Dean and Associate Professor. "While at AUA–the status of women in Armenia and their changing roles in Armenia’s transitional society became a focus–and I ended up creating the first women’s rights course at the law department. Although the course was very well received–it attracted only the women at the law department," she explains.

Anjargolian is a photographer in the tradition of female American documentary photographers such as Frances Benjamin Johnson–Jessie Tarbox Beals–Marion Post Wolcott–Graciela Iturbide–and most famously–Dorothea Lange. Her work turns a sympathetic lens to its subject. Anjargolian’s approach is reminiscent of Dorothea Lange’s famous photographs of Depression-era migrant workers in California.

Lange’s compassionate portrayals of impoverished laborers increased public awareness of their plight and were instrumental in the institution of government-funded relief programs. In much the same way–Anjargolian’s sensitive portrayals of Armenian citizens–laborers–and people young and old focus attention on the issues and challenges facing modern-day Armenia. The photographs take us from the hustle and bustle of a crowded soup kitchen to the determined faces of a throng preparing for a political protest.

Anjargolian’s work often frames a deceptively simple scene. Woman with Rooster–Meghri (2003)–for instance–depicts an elderly woman’sitting contemplatively on a bench–with a rooster on her lap and some steps in the distance. The starkness of the scene effectively conveys a sense of pain–alienation and longing. But with one hand placed directly underneath her chin and the other resting gently on the rooster–the woman also casts a familiar silhouette. Viewers may be reminded of Rodin’s famous statue–The Thinker (1880).

Anjargolian never gives in to the temptation to romanticize her subjects. Protest–Yerevan (2003)–which features masses congregating on the steps of the Matenadaran Manuscript Museum in an opposition demonstration against President Robert Kocharian–presents an unglamorous portrait. It depicts thousands of demonstrators standing together in the cold. A man and a woman in the very front look directly into the lens. The photograph represents the power and directness of Anjargolian’s work.

The Los Angeles City Attorney’s office is currently sponsoring an exhibition celebrating Armenian art and culture at Los Angeles City Hall. It features a selection of Anjargolian’s work in an exhibit titled Homecoming: Photography from Armenia. The exhibition is being held at the Office of the City Attorney–200 North Main Street–8th Floor–in Los Angeles and ends its run on Wednesday–May 4th.

To learn more about Anjargolian and her work–visit www.SaraAnjargolian.com. For further information about her upcoming exhibit at Harvest Gallery–call 818.546.1000 or visit www.harvestgallery.com.

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