Memory Denied: Turkey and the Armenian Genocide

This video profiles photographer Kathryn Cook’s exhibition, Memory Denied.

Transcript (Text)

In this section, you're going to learn about a project called Memory Denied: Turkey and the Armenian Genocide. It's by our 2008 grant winner Kathryn Cook, who explored the impact of the Armenian Genocide nearly 100 years later. And her premise was memory denied—when a culture lives within a larger culture that denies that something happened, as Turkey officially does, says there is no genocide.

Kathryn set about to tell the story of something that happened nearly a century ago. And she's choosing as her vehicle, memory. So as you look at these images, look for the ways that she's trying to tell the story of something that happened. Really, how do you make a photograph of something that happened 100 years ago? Unless you make a photograph of a photograph from that time.

Kathryn goes—she takes the elements that are associated with the Armenian Genocide, the landscape where people came from, the churches that were so central to the Armenian community and to their faith, the trains that were used to deport many of the Armenians under the deportation decrees that the Young Turks issued in 1915. She looks—she goes to the communities of diaspora, to the places where the Armenians went to, on the roads where Armenians were on forced marches. And she goes back to those places and tries to capture memory.

So for example, you have the photo of an Armenian church in a town in southeastern Turkey where there once was a flourishing Armenian population. She's gone back to a place where nobody lives anymore, and she's found a photograph as she's there, as she's just watching, of a young girl on the stairs of a now abandoned church. Explore that. What are the memories? What's the effect of light in that photograph?

What does this presence of a young girl, a living child in a place where nobody lives anymore, nobody worships anymore, what does that tell you about what happened? What does it say about memory? Look at the image that's the shadow of a train passing on the ground. There's one figure in that train that you can see. Knowing what you're learning about the deportation decrees and the fact that many Armenians were forced to leave on trains, what's the photographer suggesting? What memory comes through the use of a train in a modern landscape, but in a place where those deportations happened?

Kathryn's work is full of a very lyrical suggestiveness grounded in historical facts. And the captions will tell you exactly where she is and what she's exploring, but the visuals involved in this storytelling are extraordinarily rich and almost dreamlike. And they invite us to go into a world and imagine and remember.

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