HomeInternationalIn 'Santa Barbara,' Diana Markosian recreates her mother's journey from post-Soviet Russia...

In ‘Santa Barbara,’ Diana Markosian recreates her mother’s journey from post-Soviet Russia to marriage in America

For 20 years, photographer Diana Markosian thought she knew her household’s immigration historical past — or the gist of it, no less than. In 1996, when she was seven, Markosian’s mom, Svetlana, woke her and her older brother, David, in the midnight, telling them to pack all of their essential issues: the three of them had been going to see America. The approach Markosian remembers it, neither of them requested any questions. That evening they boarded a airplane in Moscow certain for Los Angeles, with out saying goodbye to their father.

Diana Markosian, My Parents Together, 2019, from Santa Barbara
(Aperture, 2020) © Diana Markosian

Diana Markosian, My Parents Together, 2019, from Santa Barbara
(Aperture, 2020) © Diana Markosian Credit: Courtesy Diana Markosian

When they disembarked on the airport, the household was greeted by Eli, a pudgy, much-older, American buddy of their mother’s, who introduced them into his dwelling in coastal Santa Barbara. The journey, Markosian was informed, was meant to be a vacation. But after Svetlana and Eli married lower than a 12 months later (they remained so for 9), Santa Barbara turned dwelling.

“When we came to America in the ’90s, it felt like an absolute dream to be here. (My mom) fell in love with being an American, she embraced it,” Markosian recalled in a telephone interview. “I am not sure my mom was leaving anything behind. Everything had already been taken.”

Even earlier than they lived there, Markosian had been conscious of some model of Santa Barbara. The Nineteen Eighties American cleaning soap opera of the identical identify was the primary TV present of its form to be broadcast in post-Soviet Russia, and her mom was amongst the tens of millions of Russians who made “Santa Barbara” successful, escaping right into a world that felt thrilling, unique and far-removed from their very own.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Svetlana, an economist, and her husband Arsen, an engineer — Armenians who emigrated to Moscow to end their doctorates, and separated earlier than Markosian was born — had been dwelling in poverty, amid widespread unemployment and hyperinflation. Arsen hawked Matryoshka dolls in Red Square and bought selfmade Barbie attire throughout Moscow to make ends meet. Svetlana assisted him along with his bootleg Barbie enterprise, and waited in the bread strains for handouts to feed the household.

Diana Markosian, Moscow Breadline, 2019, from Santa Barbara
(Aperture, 2020) © Diana Markosian

Diana Markosian, Moscow Breadline, 2019, from Santa Barbara
(Aperture, 2020) © Diana Markosian
Credit: Courtesy Diana Markosian

But in January 2017, when Markosian was 27, that narrative was disrupted. As the newly ascended President Trump enacted his first journey ban, Markosian, who was then working as a photojournalist for the likes of National Geographic and the New Yorker, started urgent her mom about their very own immigration story.

“I just started talking about it and trying to understand: How did we even manage to do this? How did we manage to come to America? And I saw [my mother had] this real desire to tell me, and this readiness to reveal something that felt so shameful, so difficult to tell me. And that’s kind of how it came about” Markosian mentioned.

In actuality, Svetlana, enamored with the imaginative and prescient of America she’d seen on TV, had met Eli by way of an advert she’d had circulated in American newspapers and magazines by way of a Russian company that matched Soviet ladies with American males — a well-liked route for ladies trying to immigrate on the time. Her proposition was easy: “I am a young woman from Moscow, and would like to meet a kind man who can show me America.” Her first husband had had no concept she was trying to transfer, and was blindsided when she flew internationally along with his kids and severed communication. (When she was 22, Markosian and her brother tracked her father down throughout a visit to Armenia. He had returned to Yerevan, the capital, the place the household had lived when Markosian was a baby.)

Markosian was shocked. “You hold your parents up on a pedestal and I think, for me, there was this anger, (this feeling) that this can’t be our story. Why didn’t I know more about this? Why wasn’t I included in this decision?” she mentioned. “It’s not just us coming to America and living an American life. It’s us coming to America, keeping this secret of where we are for 20 years, and of not seeing my father for 20 years. It’s completely abandoning our past for this dream.”

Diana Markosian, The Disappointment, 2019, from Santa Barbara
(Aperture, 2020) © Diana Markosian

Diana Markosian, The Disappointment, 2019, from Santa Barbara
(Aperture, 2020) © Diana Markosian
Credit: Courtesy Diana Markosian

To assist her course of the revelation, and study to empathize with her mother’s choice to abandon her life in Moscow, Markosian set out to reenact her household’s journey on digicam, by way of a brief movie and an accompanying picture collection titled “Santa Barbara.” Shot from her mother’s perspective, the challenge noticed her auditioning tons of of actors to play her relations (she checked out 384 ladies earlier than she discovered an actor to play Svetlana, somebody “who would understand what it meant to give up everything for this one decision”), and taking pictures in areas throughout California, in addition to the household’s former condo in Yerevan . (The present tenants allowed her to lease the area.) Ana Imnadze, the actor who performs Svetlana, even wears items from her mother’s wardrobe; Armen Margaryan, who performs Arsen, wears her father’s watch.

“I started seeing it as a story, and trying to divorce myself from my own life,” she mentioned. “It needed to be a work of fiction, almost, for me to accept it, to process it, to fall in love with it. Because otherwise, it just felt too, too painful.”

The photographs that comprise “Santa Barbara” are a cautious mixture of the cinematic and the private, fantasy and actuality. There are dramatically framed home scenes, moodily lit (nodding to the darkish Americana of Gregory Crewdson and David Lynch), and overexposed snapshots, together with one which reveals her “father” holding out a birthday cake, a nonetheless life with cigarettes and a cherry-red rotary telephone, which appears to be like like its been borrowed from a household scrapbook.
Palm Springs, from Santa Barbara, 2020 © Diana Markosian, courtesy the artist

Palm Springs, from Santa Barbara, 2020 © Diana Markosian, courtesy the artist Credit: Courtesy Diana Markosian

Similarly, Markosian mentioned the accompanying movie, operating about quarter-hour, “relies on all these different formats to kind of understand a chapter in my family’s life.” Recreated moments from Russia and California are intercut with Super 8 movies and photographs from Markosian’s childhood, in addition to auditioning actors’ display checks. Much of the dialogue is natural: At numerous factors, Svetlana is interrogated by her doppelganger, dressed as her youthful self, over the dinner desk; and Markosian and Svetlana have their very own back-and-forth in voiceover.

Markosian had initially meant for the challenge to be scripted. She even recruited one of many unique writers from “Santa Barbara,” Lynda Myles, to pen a script, and gave her household the chance to edit it. In half, this was a approach to mitigate her personal anxiousness about telling a narrative in which she felt like a bit participant.

Diana Markosian, The Wedding, 2019, from Santa Barbara
(Aperture, 2020) © Diana Markosian

Diana Markosian, The Wedding, 2019, from Santa Barbara
(Aperture, 2020) © Diana Markosian
Credit: Courtesy Diana Markosian

“The hardest part of this project was coming to terms with the fact that I was the narrator,” she mentioned “I sometimes sit with that thought and think why me? I was the youngest person in the room; I really didn’t have a voice in any of the decisions that were made. Why am I the one who’s in the place to tell this story? “It was a collective reminiscence, and all of us had our personal model.”

But finding a version of events that her family could agree on — from the nuances of Arsen and Svetlana’s relationship, to the realities of life in California — proved impossible. She brought Myles’ script to her father in Armenia, giving him the opportunity to inject his own perspective, but when she returned to California, her mother ended up crossing out his words and replacing them with her own. The process repeated when she handed the script to her brother.

Hearst Castle, from Santa Barbara, 2020 © Diana Markosian, courtesy the artist

Hearst Castle, from Santa Barbara, 2020 © Diana Markosian, courtesy the artist Credit: Courtesy Diana Markosian

“The complete factor is disputed (however) I believe we reached a spot of understanding that we had been by no means going to actually agree on any of it. (The variations had been) not so dramatic that I could not put out a challenge, however sufficient that I began to perceive how fascinating reminiscence is, and that if I leaned into the grey, if I leaned into each perspective, I might arrive at a more in-depth model of the reality than simply this one model that I known as my very own,” Markosian said. “I seemed on the script (after everybody had added their notes), and it turned a bit of artwork in itself.”

Diana Markosian, The Argument , 2019, from Santa Barbara (Aperture,
2020) © Diana Markosian

Diana Markosian, The Argument , 2019, from Santa Barbara (Aperture,
2020) © Diana Markosian
Credit: Courtesy Diana Markosian

In November 2020, Markosian launched “Santa Barbara” as her debut monograph with Aperture. This summer time, she is going to exhibit the photographs and debut the completed movie on the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, sharing one model of her household’s American dream with the world. There are additionally plans to flip it into an immersive present on the International Center of Photography in New York in September.

“I remember how special it was to come to America, and I never took that for granted. It just came with a very big sacrifice for all of us,” she mentioned. “That second chance to remember and recreate a part of your life is an absolute gift, and I think that’s what art has given me.”

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