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Mapping Memories: Alexis Pazoumian's Artistic Quest to Preserve Karabakh's Legacy

Photographer, filmmaker, and our 2023 Fellow Alexis Pazoumian reflects on the art of capturing and sharing complicated stories 

May 29, 2023  |  by Creative Armenia

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Alexis Pazoumian, 2023 Creative Armenia-AGBU Fellow

When in 2016 Alexis Pazoumian embarked on his new photo series The Black Garden, he could not have known he would capture places that would soon vanish into oblivion. The eruption of the 44-day war for Artsakh erased countless cities, villages, and monuments from the map, making his photographs invaluable traces of history and memory.


As a documentary photographer and filmmaker, Alexis Pazoumian is used to capturing bigger-than-life stories through the lives of regular people. His heroes are deer breeders in Yarkutsk, whose livelihoods have been influenced by climate change, and young Armenian soldiers, opposing powerful global forces. The artist’s humanist perspective has struck a note with many, earning him acclaim in distinguished publications such as The Guardian, The Washington Post, National Geographic, and Vogue.  


Immerse yourself in the exclusive interview with our 2023 Creative Armenia-AGBU Fellow as he takes us behind the scenes of his award-winning book Sacha, unveils his plans, and reflects on the preservational and transforming power of art. 

Tell us a little about how you began your journey of becoming a photographer and filmmaker. 

I started photography at the age of 18. I was taking pictures of architecture at the beginning. Then, in 2012, I participated in a university exchange program, traveling to Rio de Janeiro. There I lived in a favela for nearly 6 months and that is where I shot my first photodocumentary and short documentary film.  

"For me, taking pictures is no longer a goal in itself. Sharing an experience with the people you follow, especially the ones living unique lives, is all the more important."

Tell us about your creative inspirations – whether those are people,  things, or phenomena – and what you have learned from them. 

In the beginning, I was fascinated by such photographers as Robert Franck, Sarah Moon, Elliot Erwitt, Raymond Depardon, and Lisette Model. I was inspired not only by their photographic style but also by their artistic approach. Since they were mostly humanist photographers, I naturally gravitated toward social images. I also have a real passion for communities.

For your photobook, Sacha, you traveled to Yakutsk – the coldest city in the world – and stayed there for several months to capture the consequences of the environmental disaster. How did the trip challenge you both physically and creatively?

Initially, I went to Yakutsk because I learned that I had distant family there. At first, I mostly spent time with the local Armenian community. Then, I started exploring Yakutsk itself – the coldest city in the world – to better understand the architecture and people who have to adapt to these extreme temperatures. 

That is how I eventually discovered the community of reindeer breeders. Sacha is one of them. I spent several months with him and his herd in the depths of taiga. Physically it was complicated. There, the temperature can drop to -60°C, so my photographic work was very limited, as I could not stay outside for more than 30  minutes. I learned to take time; to live like them and share their daily life not only as a photographer but as a member of their community. 

I learned a lot about myself. For me, taking pictures is no longer a goal in itself. Sharing an experience with the people you follow, especially the ones living unique lives, is all the more important. 

Currently, you are working on a book called The Black Garden that portrays  Artsakh between 2016 and 2022 and captures places that have been destroyed and wiped out from the map. How do you hope your photographs will contribute to the broader understanding of the situation in  Artsakh?  

I value books and their sacredness. They can withstand the test of time. 

Publishing these photographs and texts in print has a special meaning for me. I can never forget that there have been multiple attempts to erase the Armenian people from both the world and history. And the threat is far from fading. For the first time in decades, the future of Karabakh is in imminent danger, yet the conflict has not been covered by the media, unlike the war in Ukraine.

I took the images in Artsakh, between 2016 and 2022, in places that are now destroyed and even wiped off the map. Currently, The Black Garden book has two goals: first, it is a contemporary testimony, a historiographic archive for the future. I see the book as my contribution to our collective memory. Since human beings have developed the power to represent the world, we know that images have an immeasurable power. Whether we like it or not, the idea that "a picture is worth a thousand words" has never been more relevant, as people read less and less and youth almost exclusively consume digital content.

"I want to alert the public to the dangers the Armenian people are facing and show that only solidarity is capable of saving humanity."

Beyond the actual sales of the book, I want The Black Garden to be like a "Trojan Horse." The one that makes people talk about the Armenian cause, helps them recognize the vital need to give this war as much empathy as the one in Ukraine and acknowledges the ambiguous attitude of Europe towards Armenia.

The book and documentary will be the legs I will lean on while moving toward these goals. I intend to participate in as many conferences, festivals, round tables, and exhibitions as possible, acting as the voice for Armenians threatened by the war. Gaining publicity for the Armenian situation would be a success for me. 

In the long run, I want to alert the public to the dangers the Armenian people are facing and show that only solidarity is capable of saving humanity.

What do you plan on doing as a Creative Armenia-AGBU Fellow and,  later, as a creative ambassador for Armenia?


As a Fellow, I intend to release the book for free. Later, as an ambassador, I would like to share my knowledge as much as possible. 

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