My passion for visual arts is what has been driving my career – perhaps also my life.I guess I’m luckier than most people because whenever I’m working it feels as if I’m merely toiling in my favorite hobby – photography.
The first camera I got was a disposable camera that my father gave to me at the age of 8.It altered the way I saw the world.It refocused my larger world into fragments intensified within singular frames.This was the first reference point from which my passion for documenting the world through a lens had started.In fact as a young boy I cried madly when the film finished and I remember how my father laughed at my ignorance telling me that this was how disposable cameras were built.Out of pity my father would soon give me his Kodak camera.This was how my passion for this form of art stuck around and developed.
After a few years of shooting with the Kodak I started to develop awareness for photo composition and how lighting played a crucial element in how the photos developed.I also started to experiment with the film by double exposing subjects against buildings and other objects.
On my first photographic project, I was 11 years old.I used the 35 mm Kodak camera to document the opening of a major modern hospital in Amman as part of my science class activities.My teachers seemed very impressed with the outcome, which featured doctors going about their work as well as portraits, the hospital’s façade, labs and technicians, ambulances and their drivers, signs and what have you of peculiar hospital architecture and employees.This project was perhaps my first “photo essay”, a term that I would learn later in life as I joined the Yerevan State Institute of Theatre and Cinematography in Armenia.
After my Kodak camera I would be introduced to video cameras through luck.I was 11 years old now.A friend of my father who owed him money would pay his debt with a video camera because he had no cash.That video camera just lay there in the house untouched until I started to play with it, immediately figuring it out and learning to use it properly.I even taught my dad how to operate it.
I started by documenting my family and their activities, shooting short films that told the story of my private life.My voice behind the camera described it all: ‘this is my father reading, he is a psychiatrist… my mother is cooking now but she also owns a small shop… this is our neighborhood and it is near the Fifth Circle and our building is one of the first to come up here… and here’s my best friend,’ etc.Then I went to our farm and documented anything that I found interesting, including the farm animals, the Egyptian farmer, the fence, the trees and produce.
Later, I would also use this video camera to do school homework at the age of 13.We were given the book “Forest Gump” as a reading assignment and I asked my teacher if we could deliver a visual essay on the book instead of a written one.She agreed and I convinced a team of my colleagues to join me as actors.We did the film and I had to learn how to edit but more or less we’d end up with a very basic and funny video essay.We still managed to impress students and the teacher when it debuted in the classroom; sadly, I think I’ve lost it now.As a team we were all awarded good marks on the project.I believe it was then that the option of learning cinematography through my higher schooling presented itself.
My parents decided to send me to Armenia at the age of 17 to continue my high school education.As Armenians, they wanted me to get an early exposure to the culture while also teaching me self-reliance at an early age.
I returned to Amman for a vacation and got introduced to the Armenian theatre in Amman.One of the theatre teachers found me talented and she became my mentor and even asked me to help her write a script.She later commended me and told me that I had a developed sense for visual narration and encouraged me to pursue a career in film or theatre.I was immediately sold on her advice and had to fight my father’s wishes that I become a doctor.He tried hard to sway my opinion toward doing a traditional degree but I was adamant.Luckily he eventually gave up and then even supported me to join the prestigious Yerevan State Institute of Theatre and Cinematography in Armenia.
When I started at the institute I had already been exposed to Armenian culture during my freshman year.But that was also a time when Armenia was still trying to find its way in the post-communism world; it was also a time when the country got caught in a painful and bloody war with its neighbor Azerbaijan.
The national mood or psyche at the time made it very difficult for me to fit in as a Diaspora Armenian.Local Armenians, suffering the aftermath of 4 years of war, were impoverished and hungry while I lived comfortably thanks to the financial support my father sent in from Jordan.This made me feel like the black sheep in my new community while it also made me more competitive in my studies.This won me the respect of my teachers who were generous in their mentorship but also the wrath of envy from other students.
I studied filmmaking there for four years.I learned how to work with directors, actors, scriptwriters and others in the film crew.My part was mostly to handle cinematography.Many of the films I did in school documented actors at the Armenian circus, which fascinated me.For me I found the circus just like the world except that it didn’t put on a brave face; instead it told its story through clowns, magicians and daredevils.
Unfortunately, I left the institute before receiving my degree as the spite of many students escalated, becoming too intense and counterproductive.I left and joined the Caucuses Media Institute and got my degree from them in photojournalism.The faculty of this institute offered me a different culture that extended much support to me from students and professors.I even managed to sell some of my photos through the institute to the Newsweek franchise in Russia, which covered the Armenian election conflict in 2008.I also received the Photo of the Month award at Ogonek, a well-known Russian photo magazine.
I was also selected at the institute to go to Turkey to document Ani, an ancient border-city with Armenia that was home to 1001 churches.I also documented the daily life in Kars, the province where Ani was located.My final return to Amman was in June 2008.I was lucky to land a job immediately with JO Publishing as head of the photography department, which remains my job to this day.