August 31, 2018

Diana Markosian on exploring the relationship between memory and place through photography

Find out more about Diana Markosian, an Armenian – American documentary photographer and our #Story18 speaker.

Diana Markosian is an Armenian – American documentary photographer and a globe-trotter. Through her work she explores the relationship between memory and place, concepts that speak a lot about her own experiences.

She was born in the former Soviet Union, in a family in which the father was absent most of the time. One morning in 1996, when she was 7 years old, her mother told her to pack her belongings because they were going on a trip. The next day they were in California. But Diana never had the chance to say goodbye to her father.

During her graduate school in California, she enrolled in a broadcast journalism course. When a female photographer came to her class as a guest lecturer, Diana remembers that she felt in awe with her passion and energy about photojournalism. „It wasn’t about her; it was about the people she photographed. There was beauty and meaning behind her work”, Diana remembers.

The same photographer, Melanie Burford, later became her photojournalism professor at Columbia University, where Diana pursued a master’s degree, and she has been her mentor ever since.

Diana started her career as a freelance photographer in Russia, where she started documenting the world of heroin addicts, and in Chechnya, a region that witnessed nearly two decades of war. She was 20 and had just finished graduate school. She felt like she needed to prove to herself that she could be a photographer. „I think that initial pressure is something we all go through, in any industry, when we are starting out. I lived and worked on assignments, trying to make a name for myself. And slowly, I started to find my voice”, says Diana.

Her work speaks about people who face complicated situations of life, from war to migration. She photographed girls coming of age in the context of post-war Chechnya, a couple from a small village near the place of the Chernobyl disaster, the 10th anniversary of the separatist siege of the school in Beslan. In 2014, Markosian rented an apartment for a month in Beslan and started visiting the school every day. She met the survivors, before attending the memorial and she spent time with a handful of students, now her age.

Diana says that her commitment and passion for this profession doesn’t come from simply creating images. It comes from building relationships. „You have to be a person before you are a photographer”.

In the last years she photographed refugee children learning to swim in Germany, or survivors of the 1915 Armenian genocide. Her most intimate project is Inventing my father, in which she documented through photography her encounter with her father, in Armenia, after more than 10 years of absence. Diana says this project is not really a project. “It’s not finished yet, it will never be, not in 10 years, it’s my life”.

“I am still exploring and finding my voice in photography. I can’t say a certain type of story excites me over another. I think I am a curious person, and I like to learn. This motivates me to keep exploring and producing new work. I want my work to have depth and hopefully speak to people”. Her advice for young photojournalists who are considering a freelance career is to stay humble and fight for what they want to do. “It has to be passionate – whether an assignment or personal project – our profession is a gift. Don’t abuse it”.

Diana’s images can be found in publications like National Geographic Magazine, The New Yorker and The New York Times. In 2016, she became a Magnum nominee.


Diana Markosian is speaking at the 8th edition of The Power of Storytelling. Register here to meet her and the other amazing speakers who will tackle this year’s theme: Rewrite.