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Writing a Place with Light: Diana Markosian on Capturing Memories Through Photography

Meet Diana Markosian, an acclaimed photographer, filmmaker, storyteller, and our 2023 Creative Armenia-AGBU Fellow

Nov 17, 2023  |  by Creative Armenia

Diana Markosian 4.jpg

Diana Markosian, 2023 Creative Armenia-AGBU Fellow | Philip Cheung for The New York Times

Diana Markosian’s photography is known for incorporating a delicate interplay between reality and imagination. Blurring the lines of documentary and fiction, her innovative storytelling has garnered international acclaim such as the World Press Photo and MoMA’s Favorite 10 Photo Books.

In this interview, Diana talks about the personal story behind her celebrated monograph Santa Barbara, and gives a preview of her upcoming sequel exploring themes of family, memory, and cultural rediscovery.

Join us as we delve into the artistry of Diana Markosian, a masterful storyteller redefining the essence of documentary photography.

Tell us a little about how you began your journey of becoming a documentary photographer and visual storyteller.

When I was 20 years old and studying to become a writer in graduate school, I stumbled upon photography by chance. I then moved to Moscow and started working as a photographer. I was teaching myself how to use a camera while creating my first body of work. I immersed myself. I wanted so much to have the freedom to see the world, and photography enabled me.

"The art of storytelling and the ability to play with the truth and fictionalize it fascinates me. It's about creating or having an approach to telling a story that doesn't feel so literal."

Tell us about your creative inspirations and what you have learned from them. 


My own experiences influence my art. That is why it is a slow process for me. It takes time to fully comprehend what has occurred and translate those experiences into a body of work. While the creation itself may not necessarily be about me, it is informed by my own experiences, which help me to empathize with those I photograph.

In your photography, you often capture intimate and vulnerable moments. How do you establish trust with the people you photograph, especially in culturally diverse and unfamiliar environments?


Building trust with people takes time.


It's a slow but very fulfilling process once that trust is built because then it ultimately enables you to create something unique.


There are no shortcuts to it and oftentimes there are no entry points into their minds and hearts. You have to rely on people who have a deeper connection to a place to help you find a way in. Once you're in, it's about truly dedicating yourself to that person and to that story and following through. 


Also, showing up consistently is a key element in creating.

Your work blurs the lines between documentary and fiction. How do you do that?


The art of storytelling and the ability to play with the truth and fictionalize it fascinates me. It's about creating or having an approach to telling a story that doesn't feel so literal. This is where the fictional and playful aspect of storytelling comes into play - the desire to create something that feels a little different.

Images from Santa Barbara, a book by Diana Markosian

Santa Barbara was a deeply personal project for you and a huge success. Now, you are preparing for the launch of the second book, coming in 2024. How does it connect with or depart from the themes of Santa Barbara, and what are your goals with it?


It is a sequel to Santa Barbara. It continues the story and explores what happened before and then what was left behind after. 


My hope with it as the second chapter of the story is to make works that contribute something meaningful. 


The project is so personal and portrays something that I've never really healed from. And if I'm able to contribute something positive and create work that resonates with others and actually means something to someone after all, it would be really special for me.

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


My primary focus is and will be to continue producing creative work in the country. 


With everything that is happening in the world right now, it feels more important than ever to create work that captures the essence of the place and its people. Similar to how my father's home has changed over time, things transform unexpectedly, and it's essential to preserve a memory of that place. 


The importance of creating a memory of a place is something that you learn again and again, being an Armenian.

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