I've known Anush Babajanyan since 2006 when we worked together preparing the World E-Summit Awards in Yerevan. She is a dear friend of mine and recently she is the co-founder of a new project called 4Plus. The aim of 4 Plus is the development of Armenia's photojournalism and documentary photography, as well as raising awareness about issues in Armenia through photography. In their work they touch many social issues in Armenian society, which are challenging and inspiring for the people in Armenia and abroad.
I've recently interviewed Anush in Yerevan and here is the transcript.
How you got started and current situation?
“I'm one of the founders of 4Plus Documentary Photography Center which is not only developing documentary photography but also focusing on the empowerment of women, specifically female photographers in Armenia. We got started in 2012 but only got registered as an NGO last year. There are 3 photojournalists in the team and we are all on equal terms on this collective initiative.”
Who's involved: roles and responsibilities?
“4Plus is an initiative by three Armenian documentary photographers, Nazik Armenakyan, Anahit Hayrapetyan, and Anush Babajanyan. All 3 of us do pretty much the same work and we share the responsibilities equally. We are involved in two main activities:
We do personal and group photography projects and it is mostly documentary photography.
Education - We organize workshops and lectures, invite photographers and other experts of photography from abroad who can teach a group of individuals something specific - photo editing, multimedia, etc.
Exhibitions - two years ago we organised a group exhibition of 10 female documentary photographers called mOther Armenia which was focused on social issues and human rights. It's a way for us to confront the issues that we have to deal with or observe in our society. It's mostly human rights issues bordering with arts, photojournalism (LGBT issues, women rights,environment, etc).”
“We do not have any long-term official partnerships but we have some friends (photographers, curators, etc.) as well as some organisations (US and UK embassies in Armenia among others) who care a lot about what we do and help us along the way. Two of our main allies are the Women's Resource Center and Open Society Foundation.”
What your main objectives are/why you do this?
“Our main objectives are to showcase the social issues in Armenia, to support women, documentary photography and ourselves as individuals. We do this because we came to realize that acting as a group as opposed to acting individually can bring more powerful impact and help solving the issues quicker than if we did it individually. We felt that we needed to get together and use all of our ability and experience, unite our backgrounds and knowledge for a more effective impact.”
What you enjoy about the work and what you enjoy less?
“I enjoy the times when I feel that what we believe in and what we have started this project for is working, happening, when I can see some tangible results. E.g. During mOther Armenia exhibition we had lots of visitors and lots of articles were written about the issues that we exposed and that is really important for us.
I enjoy less the obstacles that the society causes for us, things that work against us, like not being able to find the time for the projects. When, for example there is too much happening in our personal lives not letting us concentrate on our work. The society itself doesn't necessarily support and push us, rather it is against us.The idea of a collective of women photographers getting together and doing something for the women is a new concept in Armenia and it is not really accepted in our society. The mood in the country is not favorable for any kind of feminist movements in general.”
Do you think it would be easier for you to work if you were males?
“Definitely. In general being a woman and trying to do some work has lots of challenges (family, children, responsibilities at home), though it is not a big problem. The real problem is when men (partners, co-workers, etc) do not accept and support you and your work is not considered as important compared to men's work. You feel doubt directed to you and you need to constantly prove/explain yourself as you are considered an amateur while a man is considered a professional by default. Of course, this is not only in Armenia, I have seen it in many muslim/arab countries but the difference with Armenia is that this problem is not so visible and it is mostly a pressure on a psychological level. In terms of what we are doing it a pressure on a professional level.”
What kinds of tasks do you do on a regular basis? Yearly, monthly, weekly, daily
“We set an agenda for a year, a plan for 1-2 workshops, several lectures and possibly an exhibition. We try to find funding for that projects to bring our ideas to life. We also do our own photography projects besides group projects. As for our daily routine, it involves quite some administrative work - we need to apply for funding, thus filling in application forms, participate in relevant events, thus contacting respective agencies that organize the events, exchange emails, etc. We also travel a lot in Armenia and abroad to participate in joint exhibitions. We have to organize all the logistics and administrative preparations for the workshops and lectures we are holding. E.g. Our latest event was a meeting with John Stanmeyer- World Press Photo winner and National Geographic photographer. We had to take care of the logistics(finding the necessary equipment - projector, audio equipment, white screen,etc) and managing the event (inviting people, publicity, Facebook event, etc). This event took place in Zovasar, a remote village in Shirak marz, some 2 hours away from the capital. It was specially organised for Zovasar schoolkids in the school gym, where John was presenting his works to the children and guests from Yerevan. It was quite a success with over 30 people attending the event from Yerevan plus around 30 kids from the village itself. John did a retrospective of his work both for National Geographic + Times magazine and his projects in Armenia and it was really very interesting both for kids and the guests!”
What, other than money, do you think could help you in your work?
“Positive attitude and support of a more open and welcoming society would motivate us as opposed to the society we live in which causes the issues that we turn around and document in our photographs.”
What help could you offer others and under which conditions (assuming no money is involved)?
“We could offer any help concerning information related to Armenia. We are related to the NGO sector here and we could help with establishing contacts with them. We can advice on human rights, photography and any information related to Armenia. We are definitely open to communication and partnership with similar collectives from other countries, feminist or photography projects, etc.”
What do you produce/offer Products or services that you currently produce?
“We produce documentary photography and organize workshops and lectures with the aim of educating the society.”
How do you go about doing this- what steps are involved?
“The process is as follows: three women photographers get together, brainstorming and creating ideas and then realizing them/making them happen.”
Technologies or processes used? Costs: What expenses are involved?
“We use computers, our brains and cameras of course. The costs are relative and it very much depends on the project.”
Who benefits from the work? Who currently supports it, how and why?
“The beneficiaries are usually other photographs, mostly female photographers and the society in the long run.”
Existing alternatives: Who else is doing similar or relevant work/offering similar things- locally and or elsewhere? Important players affecting the work? (locally and internationally)
“Actually there are no alternatives to what we do in Armenia. We are affected by local and foreign fellow photographers and NGOs like Open Society Foundation and Women's Resource Center. British and US embassies have supported some of our projects too.”
Long term perspective: any Business or sustainability plan?
“We are going to continue doing what we do - workshops, photography and we hope to create long lasting educational programs and partnerships that would support us on a constant basis and that would last longer than a year, thus becoming more sustainable than right now.”
Transportation and logistics?
“If we have a big project, larger than one lecture, the logistics and expenses are usually included in the grants we are applying for.”
What do you believe are the most important projects locally that are relevant to the work you are doing at this moment?
“Probably any of the projects that individual photographers are doing, as well as women's rights activism.”