Inlandish: The Bright Women of Yerevan
Anush Babajanyan photographs women who are not afraid to stand out.
Photographer from Armenia. Lives and works in Yerevan. Studied journalism at the American University in Bulgaria. Worked for BBC Armenia. Photographed in Gyumri 25 years after the Spitak earthquake, received PhotoPhilanthrophy.org award for this project. Received a grant from Open Society Foundations Documentary Photography Project in 2013. One of the founders of the 4plus collective.
— The women I photograph never consider themselves outside the norms of society. Yet every time they walk along the streets of Yerevan, people look with amazement. In an environment that is often conservative and controlled by men, these women separate themselves by dressing differently or wearing bright make up.
If it is possible to live and be like these women choose to be in Armenia, then it is also possible for Armenian women to make many more steps towards action, work, love, and freedom in their lives.
Tamara and her mother frequently visited a cafe near a place where I worked in 2008. Tamara always looked deep in her thoughts, concentrated, eyes looking in one direction. On the first day we met, I made several photos of her. Later I sadly lost the originals of those photos and met Tamara once again to photograph.
She told me she was very interested in politics and was a member of a political party. I then saw her at a rally of another party during presidential elections, and asked what she was doing there. “I always have to be informed about what the opponent is up to,” she said.
When I saw Lora in the street she was walking slowly and proudly with a plastic bag of bread in her hand. In a way, she was very much like everyone. At the same time, there was something strange and outstanding about her. Maybe it was the slow walk, the gaze, or her sunglasses which she never took off.
Lora later told me that her husband was the town’s Prosecutor-General, and that she was an English professor at the American University in Yerevan, which is unfortunately untrue.
While walking past the Opera House in Yerevan, I saw Anahit approach me with a bright shirt and an inquiring look. Anahit was selling pens. She came from a neighborhood in the suburbs to the center every day and sold pens to passers-by. One of the things I loved most about her was her toenail polish, which was the same color as her pens.
Mariam and I met in the street on a gloomy day. The heavy rain had just ended and she was walking in a wet wedding dress. I went up to meet her and it turned out that she could not articulate herself clearly, which did not seem important. She was not wearing the wedding dress for a special occasion, she was just going home.
Mariam later told me her relatives had sent her the dress from America, and she liked wearing it. She also showed me a picture where she posed in this dress and a bucket of flowers in a photo studio.
Many friends told me about Narine, and it did not take me a long time to find her apartment. When I did, she was not home. I visited again the next day, and she was everything I expected.
Very thin, high heels, pale face accentuated by heavy make up. She treated her looks with great attention. During our walk in the street she told me she had lived outside Armenia many years ago and that her greatest desire was to leave again.
I went to the Bangladesh district in the suburbs of Yerevan, looking for Aghun. After a day of asking and searching every corner, I was finally able to find her apartment. An elderly man, seeming rather drunk, opened the door, and told me Aghun was not home but that I could wait for her inside. I decided not to and went away thinking to come back again.
When I was walking back I suddenly saw her. She was returning from her day-long trip for water. She was wearing black, as usual, and was very tired. We met the next day, and I photographed her.
Naira had the looks of a student, walking lightly, looking all around her. She was one of the kindest ladies to accept to be photographed. After I took several pictures, Naira told me that she actually lived in Milan, Italy, and was in Yerevan only for a short time. Naira said that she also once tried to photograph a stranger, but that did not work out.
I met Natalie in Moskovyan Park in Summer 2010. She was sitting on a bench next to two men in silence.
Of course her name was Natalie, what else could it have been, with those perfect looks. She told me she would gladly accept to be photographed. She did not give me her phone number and told me she would call to get the photos. She never did.
I met Sveta in 2008, when I was just beginning to photograph the Inlandish ladies. We met several times and she never agreed for her picture to be taken. I found her again in 2013, and this time she agreed right away.
Sveta told me everyone loved her in her neighbourhood. And truly, everyone greeted her as we walked. She said she lived alone in a three-room apartment, and that she spoke five languages — Armenian, Russian, English, French and German.
Gayane and I met in chilly March weather, next to a museum in the center. Her coat and sunglasses, dark and intriguing, made me walk up to her. As Gayane and I walked in search of beautiful backgrounds and her personality, Gayane spoke to me about her love for Armenia.
She believed in patriotism, and that she would never leave our country. She was living a difficult life, alone with her mother. But her mood was still quite positive. We took some photos inside an entrance of a building, in front of non-Armenian landscapes.
Barekamutyun Street, which means Friendship, welcomed me to meet Natasha one sunny day in 2009. The day was golden, and so was Natasha.
She was gentle and almost girly in her manners. Her slightly Russian accent made her disconnect from our reality. She asked me to photograph her next to a yellow background to go well with her outfit.
Piruza was a painter and was one of the first to start selling her paintings in Vernisaj Park in Yerevan. We met when she had moved away from Vernisaj to the newly built Northern Avenue. Here she offered passers-by to have their portrait painted. But as it got cold she moved back to her old place in the park to continue selling her paintings, which were on A4 papers, instead of canvas.