Rajak Ohanian

Updated — 30/06/2021

Born in 1933, died in Lyon in 2023


“Born to Armenian parents who emigrated to the Lyon area after the 1915 genocide, Rajak Ohanian learnt photography in the early 1950s and produced his first images for the theatre as part of Roger Planchon’s stage direction. At the same time he was involved in more personal work, as is illustrated in particular by Les Fils du vent (1958), a photographic investigation about the gypsy gathering at Les Saintes-Maries de la mer. His approach entailed encounter and exchange, which gave rise to the production of portraits expressing the photographer’s respect for his model. Photography became the vehicle of a shared complicity, where any hierarchic relation between the artist and his subject was done away with. In this way, he sought to humanize the cold facts of the mechanical recording. He is known for his numerous portraits of the writers, musicians, philosophers and artists he hung out with, but his images also attempt to describe the state of the world based on particular geographical, social and economic situations. He thus starts from the local and the everyday, and proceeds towards the universal. The portrait becomes the aesthetic tool making it possible to put the individual back at the centre of the debate, in an approach akin to the sociological survey sidestepping the twofold pitfall of dramatization and excessive distancing. Whether he is interested in the employees of a fabric-printing business in Lyon, or drawing up the portrait of the village of Sainte-Colombe or metropolises such as New York and Chicago, Rajak Ohanian produces a form of “social document” from which wisdom and serenity emanate. His recent works convey a more formal, almost abstract evolution, like the series Metamorphoses, photographs of landscapes structured around themes which distort the motif and reorganize the way the eye moves, thus leading the viewer towards more dreamlike territories.” […]

Excerpt from the notice by Lucille Uhlrich for the Institute of Contemporary art, Villeurbanne/Rhone-Alpes, April 2012
Translated by Simon Pleasance, 2015