Gallery Girl meets Katia Boyadjian

Normandy based artist Katia Boyadjian was born into a long line of photographers. Her father Angelo had a studio in Cairo where she was born and lived for two years before settling in Paris following the events that occurred in Suez in 1956. With experience as both a muse and an artist, her artwork fuses paint and photography and touches on her roots in the Middle East and Armenia. Gallery Girl spoke with Boyadjian to talk about her upbringing, artistic practice and influences.

Rachid, Fallahin, Katia Boyadjian, 1997 from A l’ombre d’Amon series, silver print black and white oil painted, 26 x 38.5 cm

“I have no memories of Cairo”, says Armenian-French-Egyptian Boyadjian, “I lived in Paris 15th and received a very Parisian education. Even if at my parent’s home one spoke all the eastern languages playing tric-trac.” And, while she was exposed to her father working in Paris, she was not educated by her father in shooting photographs or how to work in a laboratory. Angelo Boyadjian, a studio photographer who exhibited in Cairo in the 1940’s was not the main inspiration on his daughter. “My education as a photographer was done in the discovery of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Koudelka, Ara Guler that my father ignored because as a studio photographer these kinds of photographs did not interest him”, she says. That said, Boyadjian whose mother is French and whose father is Armenian from Egypt, has been influenced by her heritage in Egypt and Armenia and she has created several series of images that photograph both locations. Boyadjian has made a deliberate choice to focus on these places in her work and was persuaded to visit by her partner Daniel Juré and even exhibited in Alexandria at the French Cultural Center in 1994, during which time the artist stayed for a month and explains she really fell in love with Egypt. She describes the manifestation of these photographs as “a plastic encounter, a material, projected shadows.” She also acknowledges that the Eastern home that she thought was hers was not found in either Cairo or Armenia. “The Armenia I met was totally Russian”, she exclaims, “Russian was during all the Soviet period the first language of the Armenian people! So it was not the country that I had been told.” Her birthplace of Cairo did not provide a sense of home either, which she describes as “an unbreathable hellish megalopolis”, a place she says is unrecognizable now compared to the “paradisiacal” Azbakeya gardens she visited in the 1980s. Instead, it was in Alexandria where Boyadjian credits finding her “cosmopolitan Eastern ideal.” Across Boyadjian’s Egyptian works one can see modern buildings as a backdrop to farm animals, women standing by the Nile, camels at sunset and vendors selling food on the street. The work has a focus on tradition and history as opposed to the rapid modernity sweeping the country.

Alexandrie quartier Anfoushi, Katia Boyadjian, 1999 from A l’ombre d’Amon series, silver print black and white on baryta chlorobromide paper, 26 x 38.5 cm

Ethnically Armenian, Boyadjian first visited the country in 2001, resulting in a series of gentle images that reflect on her travels. “The discovery of Armenia was stunning”, says Boyadjian, “Unlike the Arab, Egyptian world where photographs are nearly forbidden, in Armenia photography is received without any prohibition.” Across soft gentle paintings and photographs older men cradle children, siblings play in the mountains and women make lavash bread. “It was a journey of great tenderness”, says Boyadjian, who adds that digital technology did not yet exist in Armenia when she made her trip. There is a sense of trust, intimacy and honesty in the photographs, with the sitters looking directly to Boyadjian’s camera. “I had learned to read and write Armenian before starting my journey”, adds Boyadjian, “So I was able to send prints to everyone I photographed in the very depths of the mountains.” This relationship between the artist and her subjects is obvious in the feeling of trust and understanding that the work evokes.

 

Something that Boyadjian is probably best known for is her relationship with French artist Daniel Juré, with whom she settled in Calvados, Normandy shortly after meeting. At the age of just 18, Boyadjian became the artist’s muse and life-partner, modelling for him and documenting the experience in her series Jours ouvrés. In these photographs Boyadjian turns the photograph both on herself as the model and the artist painting her, meaning that both subjects take on a double-role: Boyadjian moving from sitter to artist, and Juré moving from artist to subject. She describes her experience as a model as providing her true artistic education. “It is not ‘you paint me, I photograph you’”, says Boyadjian, “It is two disciplines in duality of processes which are translated in the excessiveness of the affects and the jubilation of shooting [photographs].” She credits this experience as the beginning of her artistic career that continues to develop to this day.

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Autoportait – Un jour d’aout, Atelier du campement des Mielles, Katia Boyadjian, 1998 from Jours ouvres series, silver print black and white on baryta chlorobromide paper, 26 x 38.5 cm

Boyadjian’s relationship with Juré has also had a technical influence on her, in the way that she inserts paint on top of her photographs. This introduction of paint however, was also inspired by her father Angelo and uncle Levon: “Angelo and Levon Boyadjian had their prints painted by very skilled retouchers as it existed in the East”, she says, “But they did not want to divulge their secrets. It is precisely because I live the daily life of an artist painter that it has been technically possible to for me to improve a basic technique used by these former retouchers.” Thus many of Boyadjian’s images appear in two forms: a black and white photograph, and also as a photograph that has been given a second-life with the addition of paint. Of her process she explains: “I developed an oil painting process that aims to renew the first poetry.” That said, she affirms that her fusing of paint on top of photograph is still one hundred percent the work of a photographer. “This is not a work of covering and it is the opposite of a work of the painter who covers his canvas spontaneously”, she affirms, with her silver prints being hand-painted with oils. The care employed in the act of adding paint by hand to her works translates the finished images, which seem incredibly gentle. When asked about this, Boyadjian says: “I do not claim anything either politically or sociologically except that beauty makes us better and beauty is frontal.”

Autoportait – Un jour de janvier, Atelier du Marais, Katia Boyadjian, 2011 from Jours ouvres series, silver print black and white on baryta chlorobromide paper, 26 x 38.5 cm

Katia Boyadjian’s artwork is delicate and honest, opening a window to a gentle depiction of a world that is often misrepresented and little understood. “I’m looking for affects”, says Boyadjian, “It must be confessed that they are rare, these affects, to express the sweetness in a world of competition and race to disaster.” That said, it is clear from the tenderness and tranquility that her works portray, that Boyadjian has a deep affection for her work, which she employs with a great deal of care.

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier is a London-based writer and curator. She runs the Gallery Girl blog and has written for After Nyne, Arteviste, Canvas Magazine, Harper's Bazaar Arabia, Ibraaz, Jdeed Magazine, ReOrient and Suitcase Magazine. Lizzy recently curated Perpetual Movement as part of Arab Women Artists Now (AWAN) Festival 2018 in London, which was featured in Vogue Arabia and The Art Newspaper.

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