The Armenian family photo album

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Cassandra Tavukcyian is collecting photographed memories of family life through generations of Armenians, spread out all across the world.

This project stems from a personal fascination I’ve always had with family photographs. I’ve spent hours absorbed in my family’s albums, asking questions and imagining how things were when my parents or grandparents were younger. As I started my graduate studies in photographic preservation and collections management in the fall of 2015, I began to think more critically about photos and their importance in accessing memory and history.

The family photograph is perhaps one of the most common forms and genres of photography. Still, its social and historical relevance continues to be under-appreciated by academics and researchers. This is surprising given that family photographs are embedded with deep emotional and psychological dimensions, that have the potential to shape and reshape both individual and collective identities.

For me, the value of these photographs lies in their ability to offer insight into how individual families grapple, cope with and exchange shared experiences of extreme trauma and mourning in their new surroundings.

In my own research, I have been especially drawn towards collecting photographs of diasporan Armenian families during the interwar period. This was a crucial moment in Armenian history, immediately following the genocide of 1915-1923 when, by some accounts, up to 75 percent of Armenians were either killed or forcibly dispersed. Family photographs from that time give a unique insight into how Armenian families, spread out over a number of continents, attempted to understand and come to terms with what had happened to them.

The photographs I’ve gathered range from professional studio portraits to intimate family photographs, and I found the majority of them on eBay, from a seller based in Cairo. Although little providential information accompanied the photographs, many of them have been made into postcards inscribed with handwritten messages, dates and locations, suggesting that they had been shared and exchanged among distant family members or friends. The majority of them were dated from the 1930s.

These families survived and that they did not want to be forgotten.

For me, the value of these photographs lies in their ability to offer insight into how individual families grapple, cope with and exchange shared experiences of extreme trauma and mourning in their new surroundings. In this sense, the austere disposition of the families in the photographs represents a record of collective acknowledgement that these families survived and that they did not want to be forgotten.

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