Framework

Capturing the world through photography, video and multimedia

The 10th century cemetery on the island of Akhtamar (Aghtamar), Lake Van, Turkey.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Kathryn Cook

A train passes between the cities of Konya and Adana, Turkey. A German company won concessions to build part of the railway back in the early 1900s, then called the Baghdad Railway, and in 1915 the Turkish government began to use it to deport thousands of Armenians to eastern Turkey and Syria.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Kathryn Cook

The Armenian Holy Cross Church, built in the 10th century by the Armenian King Gagik Artsruni, is seen from a ferryboat on the island of Akhtamar (Aghtamar) in Lake Van, Turkey. The church is possibly the most precious symbol of Armenian presence in Turkey and is a popular pilgrimage site today.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Kathryn Cook

Children play in the courtyard of the old Ä°hlasiye Madresesi, or religious school, in Bitlis, Turkey. According to archive documents, Bitlis' population was roughly half Armenian before 1915.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Kathryn Cook

Women attend a religious service at the Church of the Holy Cross on Akhtamar (Aghtamar) Island in Lake Van, Turkey, Sunday Sept. 19, 2010. This was the first religious service to take place in the church since the Armenian Genocide 100 years ago.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Kathryn Cook

A photo of slain Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink is seen in the reflection of the hearse carrying his flower-covered coffin during a funeral procession in Istanbul, Turkey on January 23, 2007. Dink was shot in broad daylight outside of his newspaper's office in Istanbul. Dink, a defender of his Armenian past and minority rights, was charged with breaking Law 301 of the Turkish Penal Code which makes it criminal to “insult” the Republic or being a Turk.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Kathryn Cook

A crumbling cemetery is seen from a train that runs from Adana to Istanbul.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Kathryn Cook

Young Armenian boys run around the grounds of the abandoned seminary that stands in the Armenian quarter of the old city area of Jerusalem. Thousands of refugees arrived in Jerusalem after the Armenian deportations began in 1915, seeking shelter in churches and convents, one of the primary being the St. James convent in the Armenian quarter.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Kathryn Cook

Villagers from Ağaçlı, Turkey, harvest mulberry leaves to feed their silkworms. The silk is then used to make traditional scarves. Recently, the Kurdish inhabitants of this former Armenian village revived an Armenian scarf-weaving tradition that cultivates silkworms in the same trees and gardens used 100 years ago. The trees are all that remain of the Armenians’ time here since their deportation and massacre in 1915.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Kathryn Cook

A dirt track disappears off into the hills of the Turkish countryside as it is seen from a train that runs from Istanbul to Gaziantep, Turkey.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Kathryn Cook

A flock of birds flies over the coast of Lake Van in eastern Turkey where the largest population of Turkey's Armenians had been living for centuries.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Kathryn Cook

Visitors walk towards the entrance of the Armenian Genocide monument in Yerevan, Armenia to pay their respects on the evening of the anniversary - April 24th.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Kathryn Cook

Visitors walk towards the entrance of the Armenian Genocide monument in Yerevan, Armenia to pay their respects on the evening of the anniversary - April 24th.

A view from a train that runs from Adana to Istanbul. According to eyewitness accounts, detention camps formed along the sides of the tracks, particularly between the cities of Konya and Gaziantep. Defending themselves against bandits, starvation and disease, thousands perished in the camps or in route to Syria.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Kathryn Cook

Women enter the Church of the Holy Cross on Akhtamar Island in Lake Van, Turkey in 2010, during the first service in the church since the Armenian Genocide.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Kathryn Cook

A priest's frock hands out at an Armenian abbey in Jerusalem.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Kathryn Cook

The portrait of an Armenian couple is seen in Ordu, Turkey. Most of the Armenians from Ordu and the Black Sea were deported or massacred. It is estimated that no more than ten Armenians now live in Ordu, and they do not celebrate Armenian traditions for fear of asserting their religious origins.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Kathryn Cook

Visitors walk towards the entrance of the Armenian Genocide monument in Yerevan, Armenia with torches to pay their respects on the evening of the anniversary - April 24th.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Kathryn Cook

Tables and chairs are set up before the start of an Armenian celebration in Vakıflı, Turkey.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Kathryn Cook

A grove of trees is seen in the region around Lake Van, Turkey. The region of Eastern Turkey is where the largest population of Turkey's Armenians had been living for centuries - their ancient homeland. Today, very little remains of their presence.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Kathryn Cook

Snow blankets the countryside along a road between Van and Doğubayazıt, Turkey, close to the border with present-day Armenia.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Kathryn Cook

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reFramed: In conversation with Kathryn Cook

“reFramed” is a feature showcasing fine art photography and vision-forward photojournalism. It is curated by Los Angeles Times staff photographer Barbara Davidson. twitter@photospice

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Kathryn Cook grew up in Albuquerque and graduated from the Colorado University at Boulder in December 2001. Her professional career began with the Associated Press in Panama in 2003, and in 2005 she left to pursue personal projects and a freelance career in South America. 

In September 2006, she moved to Istanbul, where she started her project “Memory of Trees.” This body of work about the Armenian genocide was published in 2013 by the Bec en l’Air Editions and Kehrer Verlag. In 2008, this work was awarded by the Aftermath Project. The same year she received the Inge Morath Award, and in 2012 the Alexia Foundation’s Special Judge’s Recognition award.

Her pictures have been exhibited in France, Italy, China and the United States. They were also published in numerous magazines such as the New York Times Magazine, the New Yorker, Time, Stern, Newsweek, Le Monde and the Independent. She currently resides in London with her husband and two daughters.

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Q: What inspired you to become a photographer? What was your career path?

A: I went to the University of Colorado at Boulder and was pursuing a degree in journalism but went into reporting and writing.

During that time I found a couple electives that were offered in photojournalism, and I knew right away that this was what I wanted to pursue. It combined my love of storytelling and journalism with the creative, visual outlet I needed. The professor at the time, Kevin Moloney, was engaged and full of encouragement for the small, energetic group of us that existed at the time. Since there were only two classes, I sought out internships and shadowed photographers at the local newspapers.

After graduating in 2001, I went to Florida for a visual journalism fellowship at the Poynter Institute and from there went to Miami to freelance. Maggie Steber was the DOP at the Miami Herald, and she became one of the most influential, and long-term, mentors for me. From there I went to Guatemala for an intensive language course and then was hired by the Associated Press in Panama. I stayed there for 2 years and then decided to pursue my own freelance projects and moved to Bolivia. I stayed in Latin America until mid-2006 and then really wanted to explore other regions. I chose Turkey because of my interest in regional water issues, and so I moved to Istanbul.

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Q: What inspired you to tell the 100-year-old story of the Armenian genocide?

A: I moved to Istanbul in 2006, and newspaper headlines immediately made me aware of Turkey’s controversial Armenian past. Internationally, Turkey was recalling its French ambassador over a controversial genocide bill. And internally, journalists, publishers and writers like Orhan Pamuk were being tried for “insulting Turkishness.” Pamuk’s crime was mentioning the Armenian genocide.

In January 2007, as I was still doing my research, Turkish Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who spoke out publicly in defense of minority rights, was murdered in front of his Armenian newspaper’s office in broad daylight. In that moment, I understood this issue was anything but past – identity based on nationalism and ethnicity thrives today.

This terribly shocking and saddening event reinforced the fact that what happened 100 years ago remains an important contemporary issue and continues to influence society and politics profoundly. Nationalism, historical memory and the search for justice continue to mark contemporary Turkey. I wanted to understand the present manifestations, and those whose lives and circumstances are effected by this denial today.

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Q: How did you set out to photograph something that doesn’t exist anymore?

A: In the beginning of the project, I set out just to see. I had no idea what I would find, if anything. I knew this project was different; there would be nothing evident to document, no planned events. But I had a sense something would come through eventually.

Turkey is an immense country, and it was hard for me to imagine what the East looked like. I wanted to trace the landscapes and survey the geography – where the Armenian communities once lived and the routes along which they were deported. I had several maps, old newspaper articles and a couple survivors’ memoirs. I wanted to see what remained, the ruins, the cemeteries, anything that could give me an idea of their presence. Honestly, I didn’t photograph much for the first few trips. First I had to make sense of the place and the history held within it.

coccoon_2

Silk Cocoons harvested in the village of Ağaçlı, Turkey. The silk is used to make traditional scarves. Recently, the Kurdish inhabitants of this former Armenian village revived an Armenian scarf-weaving tradition that cultivates silkworms in the same trees and gardens used nearly 100 years ago. The trees are all that remain of the Armenians’ time here since their deportation and massacre in 1915. (Photograph by Kathryn Cook)

 

Q: What does the title of your book, “Memory of Trees,” refer to?

A: It took me a long time for to understand the final direction of the work. It was not until I arrived in the village of Agacli some three years into the work that I finally understood the meaning and possibilities of the project. In Turkish, Agacli means “with trees” or “place of trees” and before 1915 it was an Armenian town. Several years ago, the Kurdish residents revived a silk-weaving tradition that was inspired by those Armenians before them. They cultivate silkworms in the same way, in the same gardens, in the same mulberry trees, used by the Armenians a century ago. The trees – and now this silk tradition – symbolize the enduring legacy on their ancient homeland, hence the title for my project. I also photographed the silk cocoons, which became a quiet and more reflective inner core of the work.

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Q: What was the editing process like for the book?Kathryn Cook Book Cover

A: The editing process for the book was grueling. The project lasted so many years, and I revisited places several times and changed my idea of what I was seeing. A good friend and wonderful editor helped me edit for various grants during the entire seven years. Finally, when the book idea was on the table, we did a complete revision, picture by picture, through my entire archive. As long as this took, it was necessary because of how dramatically the project evolved over time. We wanted to keep the essence of what I started with too, which was based on the idea of how one’s perspective of a landscape changes when you know what has happened there – when you know what it has witnessed, its history. This, amidst the denial.

The final editing took me months. Finally, at Visa Pour l’Image in Perpignan, France, I was introduced to a lovely editor, Fabienne Pavia with Le Bec en l’Air. Based in Marseille, she was already very familiar with the subject and we started talking about the book possibilities. Later, Kehrer Verlag in Germany joined as a co-publisher.

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Q: Was this a self-funded project?

A: The project was partially self-funded and also supported by several grants. After a year of working on it myself, I was awarded the Aftermath Project grant, which saved me just in time. I was freelancing, and it was hard to sustain a project that was so travel intensive. Later, I also received help through the Inge Morath Award and from the Alexia Foundation. These were all critical because they allowed me to focus solely on the project.

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Q: You are mother to two young children. How do you juggle your work and parenting?
After living in Istanbul for two years, I moved to Rome and in 2009 my first daughter was born. My plan was to set the project aside for a year, let it rest and let my mind breathe and focus on family. When my daughter was 9 months old, I decided to pick up again, and so I traveled with her back to Turkey for a while to continue the project. But of course it was different. I had to take care of a young baby in an environment that wasn’t set up for that, on top of napping, feeding and other baby logistics, like luggage. I just had to stay very flexible and very patient.

A: I returned two more times with her, once accompanied by my husband and once with a babysitter. You do lose an element of freedom, but her presence also changed my relationship and the dynamic with the people I met in a wonderful way.

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Q: Where is “Memory of Trees” being exhibited? Did you work closely with the curator and hanging of your work?

A: “Memory of Trees” is currently being exhibited in San Francisco at SOMArts Cultural Center from April 12-22 and then in the San Francisco City Hall on April 24. The curator for my exhibition is the same wonderful friend who helped me edit the book – Annalisa D’angelo. I hung the work with the help of volunteers from the San Francisco – Bay Area Armenian Genocide Centennial Committee.

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Website

Links: Memory of Trees, April 13–22, 2015 — SOMArts, le Bec en l‘air, LA MEMORIA DEGLI ALBERI Fotografie di Kathryn Cook a cura di Annalisa D’Angelo.

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barbara.davidson@latimes.com

twitter@photospice

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