Although Vahe Peroomian was born in California, he has always felt a connection to the landscape of his ancestral homeland: Armenia. That link, and his many visits to the country, inspired him to publish "A Photographic Journey of My Homeland, Armenia," which includes hundreds of photographs the space scientist and Glendale Community College trustee took during 90 days in Armenia between 2004 to 2011.
Peroomian is scheduled to discuss his 226-page book at Abril Bookstore, 415 E. Broadway, on July 17 at 8 p.m.
Q: What did you learn about Armenia through photographing the people and places within the country that you didn't know before?
People love to tell stories in Armenia, and this is what I feel enriched [me] the most. I've retold some of the stories and sayings in my book, as even a simple joke often gave more insight into the psyche of my compatriots as any photograph I took.
During most of my trips I was accompanied and guided by [a friend], Stepan Nalbandian, who is not only knowledgeable about the countryside, but is also passionate about protecting its ancient monuments. Together we visited many locations off the beaten path and of the radar of tour companies. More than once, he picked me up in the morning, and the first words out of his mouth were, "you'll see wonders today…" He was right every single time. The idyllic church in Ardvi, the valley in which Hnevank Monastery is nestled, the alpine highlands of Selim pass and the old road to Jermuk, lined with crystalline basalt cliffs rivaling Devil's Postpile National Monument [in Mammoth Lakes], are just a few. What I came to realize, though, was that photographing Armenia is going to be a lifelong journey.
Q: Did you learn anything new about yourself in the process?
I've had cameras since I was very young, and photography has always been a hobby for me. But what my trips to Armenia in 2003 and the connection I felt with the landscape did were to ignite a passion for photography in me, one that has not only led to this book, but also to numerous exhibitions of my work. I also realized how necessary it was for me, as a physicist, to balance the scientific side of my life with the artistic side that photography provides. Years ago, I promised myself to take time to view the sunrise or sunset at least once a month, and doing this while capturing the shifting light on the landscape is even more satisfying than I ever thought.
Q: In the book, you include photos of ancient sites, churches, monuments, presidential elections, commemorations of the Armenian Genocide, and the unveiling of a millennial church discovered in the forests of Karabakh, what was your favorite moment you were able to capture with your lens?
I'd have to say that the entire trip to unveil the millennial church in Nagorno-Karabakh was one of the most incredible experiences of my life: The incredibly arduous roads that took us to the remote village of Haytagh, the trek in the stifling summer heat to the church, the discovery of an ancient cemetery strewn with khatchkars (stones carved with crosses), my first glimpse of the church, and the stories told by my companions on the expedition and by the denizens of Haytagh during the trip.
The most photographically satisfying moment came in 2006, when I visited Haghartsin at 5 a.m. in the morning and waited for the first light of day to illuminate the monastery. The golden light I captured lasted less than 30 seconds, but it left an indelible impression.
Q: Lastly, anything else you wanted to add that I didn't ask you about?
One of the photography techniques that I've used extensively in Armenia and featured in my book is black-and-white infrared photography. I've had a camera converted specifically for this purpose, and all of the black-and-white photos in the last several chapters of the book are from my infrared camera….Leaves and grass appear snow white, and there is a lot more contrast in these photos…. Infrared photography is one of the ways that I express my vision of the Armenian landscape, a vision that is driven by the juxtaposition of ancient structures with the landscape, and the oft-forgotten importance of light and its texture in photography.
*Answers have been edited for length.