The name of Artin Azinyan /1930 – 2005/ I met for the first time this year. At the end of May during a tour of the central Balkan one of my stops was Kazanlak. I admit that I did not have high expectations of how I would spend my time there. In fact, a whole day was hardly enough for me to tour all the museums and galleries. Besides the Museum of Photography, which I knew about for a long time and wanted to visit, there was another photography exhibition at the same time in the city’s art gallery. It was there that I initially encountered the work of Artin Azinyan, a photographer who captured the development of his hometown and the surrounding area. Bedros Azinyan helped me in detailing his father’s life and work. In addition to the exhibition, he created an album called “My Kazanlak”, which is a valuable archive of life in the city. There are others to be published in the near future that will present individual projects, some of which will be discussed in this article.
Brief biographical sketch
Artin Azinyan was born into a family of immigrant basket makers who fled the Turkish massacres of the 1920s. Initially, the family settled in Burgas, and later in Muglizh and Shipka. They finally settled in Kazanlak in 1925. The family’s house is located near the current market and the old town hall building. It was there that Artin was born.
He took his first steps in photography when he was 15 years old. Then his father sent him to apprentice with the Johannes brothers and Arshak Tirakian. He also apprenticed in the well-established studios of “Peter Arnaudov and Khlebarovi”. After completing his military service in Burgas, he was appointed a staff photographer at the “Bulgarian Photography” Kazanlak branch. For the next 50 years, he preserved for future generations all the important events in the town and the region. Besides the local newspaper “Iskra”, he was a correspondent for BTA, “Rabotnichesko delo”, “Narodnaya mladezh”, “Zemedelskoe Znamme” and several magazines.
Artin Azinyan majored in several photography courses after graduating from high school. One of them was at ORWO Wolfen Germany. In 1974 he received the title of photographer-artist. He is a recipient of the FIAP “Nieps, Daguerre, Talbot” gold medal for lifetime achievement and contribution to photography. He holds several national medals and orders. In his artistic career, he has 11 solo photographic exhibitions.
The first photo club and the establishment of the cinema-photo club “Iskra”
At the age of 25, Artin Azinyan took on the organization and leadership of the first photography club in the city. It was held in the town’s “Pioneer Home”, and some of the amateurs who took part turned this hobby into their profession.
In 1963 he became a co-founder (another of whom was Chudomir) of the cinema-photo club “Iskra” as part of the eponymous community center in the town. In the following years, hundreds of enthusiasts passed through it. The preoccupation with this activity led Arto (as his friends call him) to abandon the management of the regional state photo studio and devote himself entirely to the club. Here’s what he says about this passion of his:
“In my creative destiny there have been not a few dramatic moments and conflicts, but without arguments, without clicking opinions, without searching, there is no development. Now I am happy to talk about the successes of the film and photo club “Iskra”, I am happy for my students and followers who have created dozens of photo exhibitions, hundreds of publications, participation in prestigious photographic salons, awarded with prizes from our and international film festivals. Thank you to my friends and fellow film and photo artists who helped me sometimes around the clock!”
Under his leadership, the club grew and strengthened, making it possible to speak with respect about the Kazanlak School in the photographic arts.
Documentation of the construction of TPP “Maritsa – East” and the Buzludzha Memorial House
In 1957 Artin Azinyan began work on filming the construction of the Maritsa East thermal power plant. He captured both the foundation laying and the official opening. In this documentary project, the most valuable are the many shots of the meetings with workers, builders, and site managers. It was then that he met Genadi Milovanov and his team. They built the first chimney of the complex, and years later the 70-meter-high pylon of the Buzludzha monument.
Speaking of this monument – Artin Azinyan will capture the first blasts that prepared the ground for the pouring of the monument’s foundation. In the following years until 1981, he would make a kind of passport of the construction. Again, he succeeded in getting a state-of-the-art photo lab set up at the monument’s administration. On this project, they shot Kodak color film and created a series of postcards and albums.
From Bedros I learn about plans for these two documentary projects to see the light of day in the form of photo albums in the near future. Something I personally find extremely valuable and necessary. Here’s what he adds in an interview with the Monitor newspaper: “Dad had a habit of getting everything well done perfectly to the last millimeter. Before the events, he would go to the place, choose the places where he had the best view, literally direct what should be done later so that there would be no… scrap. And that was in the days when we took “blind” shots and the film had a maximum of 12 frames.”
We have all become accustomed to the possibility of easy and frequent travel. We often witness comments about how we are so bored of the city we were born in or live in that we lose motivation to pick up the camera. The example set by Artin Azinyan, dedicating his life to preserving the memory of a changing small town, is valuable for any young photographer. Looking at his images from half a century ago, I am clearly aware that photo evidence is an integral part of historical heritage.
After this short digression, I will return to the exhibition and the album, which I had the opportunity to see at the Kazanlak Art Gallery. The album contains several hundred archival images of the city and a small hint of what else lies in this priceless archive. I’ll probably miss something in listing events that happened in a town over half a century. I can’t help but emphasize the change in the appearance of the central part, the neighborhoods, the streets and their inhabitants, the replacement of old houses with blocks, and the curious happenings. Evidence of the livelihoods of the region’s villagers is also preserved. The album features numerous aerial panoramic photographs of the town at the time. A considerable part of the publication is devoted to the culture of Kazanlak, mostly connected with the community center “Iskra” and its members. Sport is also not omitted, and the emphasis is placed on the world championship in parachuting, held in Kazanlak in 1980.
Not only with a photo, but also with a movie camera
In one of the photos in the photo album I saw Artin Azinyan with a movie camera in his hand. This prompted me to look for information about his work in cinematography. Here’s what Bedros told me along these lines, “In the beginning, he mastered the pictorial language of photography, as well as the photographic process itself – from the preparation, the shooting, the lab work and the finished look of the photograph as a final product. No matter if it is for an exhibition, magazine, or memory. Over the years, the composition in the movement and the frame have attracted his desire to work with a film camera. He shot his first short amateur films with an Admira camera and, from 1975, with a KRAZNOSORK cinema camera. At the end of 1988, he started filming with his first Panasonic M3 video camera. He has made dozens of films as a cinematographer and director. His teacher and friend in this endeavor is Zachary Zhandov. These cinema films are similar to the subject of his photographic archive.”
In addition to the cinema cameras mentioned, we can also add the cameras with which Artin has photographed. These are the small-format EXAKTA and medium-format Flexaret, Moskva-5, Pentacon Six, Hasselblad. The aesthetics in the frame and the message the author sends to the viewers is what he insists on most in a photograph. We end this author portrait with a memorable maxim of his about photography and diversity in the photographer’s point of view:
“When all the photographers are looking and shooting ahead, you look at what’s happening behind you”
I would be grateful to anyone who is willing to join the Photoworld Club’s initiative to preserve Bulgarian photographic memory and I look forward to receiving your memories and photos by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Author: Anton Daskalov