For the first time, Armenia representative has won the prestigious World Press photo journalism contest. Vaghinak Ghazaryan’s “Resting Soldier” photograph is among the three prize winners in the “Contemporary Issues/Single” category, which featured around 5,000 pictures.
The places from the 1st to the 3rd will be assigned to the three winners on April 15, during the award ceremony that is to be held online due to the pandemic.
“Paradise Lost”, the series by another finalist Valery Melnikov, also covers the Artsakh war.
Vaghinak Ghazaryan is a freelance documentary photographer. During and after the war, he traveled by car to the border areas of Artsakh and Armenia’s Syunik region, where he documented the face of the war. “Resting Soldier” is the first photo Vaghinak has submitted for the World Press contest.
We have talked with Vaghinak after the 2021 World Press Photo Contest named the finalists. Vaghinak works with Mediamax as well: he makes the photos for the series telling about Teach For Armenia fellows working in rural communities. The series runs since 2017.
“It was a moment of intuition; I felt it and just took the photo.”
Armenian forces had trenches in the area leading from Nerqin Khndzoresk to Kashatagh, from which they watched out against Azerbaijani forces’ possible attack on Syunik. It was difficult to obtain a permit to take pictures. One commander said we could just go and have a look at the trenches. I left my camera in the car and took some pictures with my phone, which was not a problem because the soldiers themselves did so. The camera was quite large and attracted attention, but the phone did not.
We went from one combat post to another. I walked in the front. As we were passing a trench, I noticed a sleeping soldier and froze in my place. I told the others to stop too, so that the soldier does not wake, and I asked to take one picture. I noticed that he awakened from our whispers, so I did not get a chance to make another photo. Just this one, with my phone.
Photo: Vaghinak Ghazaryan
I photographed the soldier the way I first saw him. It was a moment of intuition; I felt it and just took the photo.
We spoke a little with the solider and then went on. I don’t even remember if I showed him the photo, because so much was happening at the moment. I can’t recall his name, I only remember that was not one of the 18-19 years old draftees. Afterwards, I made portraits with my camera at the soldiers’ request. The resting soldier could be in one those pictures.
“That’s the way we were: strong, but asleep”
When I look at this photo now, it seems to me a symbol of our country at war: strong, powerful, broad-shouldered, but asleep and resting. For me, it is a symbol of defeated Armenia, but not the soldier, because the country was not ready for the war. The photo has nothing to do with it, the soldier is just sleeping, but in hindsight, the defeat looms in the photo – in that moment.
This photo is very contradictory for me. During the war, there was only force, with a positive perception. And now I look back and realize that we were just like that, sleeping confidently. Strong, but asleep. I consider this my personal defeat too.
“War is a big contradiction”
War is a big contradiction. Wherever I was, when I communicated with the soldiers, the people, at least they were holding their heads high and confident. There was pain, but no depression at all. It is harder, more complicated now.
When you are in it, you do not perceive many things as sharply as after it ends. The war was that contradiction: loss, death and tragedy on one side and people’s way of life and spirit on the other. It seemed that they always lived in that war, it was their reality. It was harder after the war when they left and burned down the houses. That broke them.
But I believe that we will overcome this ordeal and be victorious, even if it is not in the near future.