Background is a series of photographs, documenting studio backgrounds and settings in six cities of the Middle East: Amman, Beirut, Byblos, Istanbul, Cairo and Alexandria. The idea for this project arose from a single photograph of a plain grey backdrop in my father’s studio in Damascus, and coincided with a broader disappearance of a particular type of backdrop from commercial studios across the region. This disappearance seemed to me to index the end of an era in the history of photography in the region.
Hrair Sarkissian is a photographer. Born and raised in Damascus, he earned his foundational training at his father’s photographic studio, where he spent all his childhood vacations and where he worked full-time for twelve years after high school. In 2010, he completed a BFA in Photography at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, Amsterdam. He lives and works in London since 2011. He uses photography as a way to tell stories that are not immediately visible on the surface. Employing traditional documentary techniques and using a 4×5 analogue camera, his photographic series consist of austere, large-scale images. Photography is his tool to search for answers related to his personal memories and background, and he uses this subjectivity as a way to navigate larger stories that official histories are unable or unwilling to tell. Hrair tries to engage the viewer into a more profound reading of what lies behind the surface of the image, thereby re-evaluating larger historical or social narratives. Once people become aware of the invisible elements behind his work, the physicality of the image is almost destroyed.
- Cover photo: Hrair Sarkissian: from the series Background, Beirut, 2012.
- By Subject: backdrop