The Rhythm of Passing Time in the “Black, White, Tricolor” Photo Book

Nune Hakhverdyan

Art critic, journalist

The title of photographer Zaven Khachikyan’s “Black, White, Tricolor” book already suggests a play on colors. All 150 photos within the book are black and white, and it is with those contrasting and, by and large, irrelevant colors that Armenia’s independence symbol turned flag is reinterpreted.

The exhibition and book based on the 25-year history of the independence of the Republic of Armenia were presented at the History Museum of Armenia. And that is not random, since we are also the bearers of history, our past, great catastrophes and victories, individual happiness of daily life and losses that at first glance seem insignificant.

How the author puts it: an attempt was made to add two extra colors to the tricolor. Or to make visible the multiple hidden colors in two colors.

The “Black, White, Tricolor” book is chronologically structured, beginning in 1983 and ending in 2000. Many things have occurred in that time, but Zaven Khachikyan does not pretend to be a chronicler by summarizing all of the marked stages of those years, and instead suggests to travel throughout history, meeting people in different situations and environments, around a table: sharing a piece of bread, at Liberty Square: with a wide-open mind and smile, during everyday work: in the village or yard, preparing for war: anxious and full of hope.

The book, with its structure and rhythm, leads to very deep hidden feelings. Let’s say, you are trying to understand the separation between a person and their environment, and later the return to the most basic and vital harmony.

A person is inseparable from their environment, but in the images caught with Zaven Khachikyan’s eyes the portraits of people are independent and at the same time glued to their environment to the extent that they become abstractions. That is, they lose connections to place and time because they are absorbed with environment within them and are being abstracted, cut off from reality: they are turning into symbols.

Hrant Matevosyan’s key comments are quoted in the book, which were created for Zaven Khachikyan’s book in 1995. He wrote, “If Zaven Khachikyan’s eye for photos inadvertently opens and makes comprehensible horror scenes, he will never develop or publish them not for himself, also not for me or you.”

Shock and horror are always more compelling in visual art when there is the intent to quickly present it. And the “Black, White, Tricolor” book works much more delicately, it invites us to contemplate together.

Zaven Khachikyan’s laconic visual tongue chases a person and their time describing characteristic features: the hand, the eye, the wrinkle, the sun shining in the distance, children consumed with rituals of games in the yard, the gaze from those who are grey, who are filled with memories of children consumed with rituals in the yard…

Hrant Matevosyan has also reminded us about the important principle behind structuring an image, which is “non-revolutionary.” He wrote: “Creators bring original chaos to text and bring them to balance, with their recreated world’s expelled emergency sound, color, style, as if also fearing the perception of emergency situations and moreso reflection.”

Zaven Khachikyan does not picture accidents (even meaningful accidents), he reminds us about the strength of the chain. All of us are small links on that story. And being that small is the most beautiful and correct status. That is promising.

There is no greater thing, other than getting satisfied with a piece of bread, than a readiness to be a small part of a great community. You reach a deep maturity, while preserving the pleasure of childhood games and freedom. When you offer a lending hand and see that you are being offered a hand too.

Hrant Matevosyan wrote: “TV-film-photo-poster are filled by the world’s plaster of blood and collapse in images, you embody a safe distance in your armchair and enjoy the anguish and fall of others.”

The “Black, White, Tricolor” photo book is filled not with collapses and falls, but rather with love: with the most fragile and difficult feelings validated. Fact is filled with emotions, when the familiar is convened to guessing. In Zaven Khachikyan’s photos, there is that guessing. Today is what is important, which is backed by 25 years of independence and continuing expectations.

In the case of photo documentation that is a unique achievement, because fact turns into symbol, later divided into fragments and again coming together, already including the viewer.

To say it in a short and philosophical manner: the cosmos is broken down, turns into chaos and later again regroups into a more harmonious and renewed cosmos.

This effect is created due to a few editing layers. All of the photos are self-sufficient, but at the same time, correlated. Due to the rhythm from the pauses and sizes of the photos the book becomes a dialogue, a touch-reaction occurs in the space of the book.

That is very similar to documentary filmmaker Artavazd Peleshyan’s copyright distance editing, when besides the logical rhythm of the first layer, the underground rhythm also originates, in scenes apart from each other.

This book is actually full of hiding places and meaningful traps. You look through it, diving into real people and situations, later with a strange lightness you begin to observe the documented photos, as a summary of abstraction (almost like paintings). You see yourself in the portraits. And as a result you appear in front of eternal questions: who am I and what am I for?

And may it not sound pathetic, but this book outlines the way in finding answers to those complex questions. That path is in the viewer’s eye, you must simply allow for the carefully selected and arranged photos to speak with their rhythm. Let them speak slowly and awaken the desire to contemplate like a film, where you are the director.

A book, like any work of art, must have a finale. The “Black, White, Tricolor” book uses transformation as a finale. The crowd gathered at the square is specific and familiar. It is us 25 years ago. In the next scene it is already the sky, later again the sky, already abstract. Later a narrow horizon, an invitation to expand it. And finally, a big and colorful landscape.

If you accept the invitation to expand the view, the book will explain many things to you…

Nune Hakhverdyan

The views expressed in the column are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Media.am.

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