Carl Valiquet has extensive work from all over the world. His Armenia work seemed to have a serenity and calm to it. I sent him a few questions about his trip there.
Carl, please tell us a bit about yourself
I am a self-taught ex-Montreal advertising and travel photographer and cinematographer now living in Java, Indonesia.
I have taken a break from advertising photography but I continue to travel and make images under less stressful and hurried conditions. I have rediscovered the joy of taking pictures.
What inspired you to become a photographer?
Please let me quote words written by my friend Jean Bardaji:
« It’s in 1963 that Carl Valiquet develops his first images in a darkroom snuggled in a church basement in Montreal West. He is 18 years old and is instantly smitten by the medium. It is a revelation! After seeing Michelangelo Antonioni’s film BLOW-UP in the late sixties, Carl quits his University studies for the «University of imagery». Was it those scenes showing the beautiful women waiting in line to be photographed or the Rolls Royce that the photographer was driving that impressed the young Valiquet? »
The works of Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, William Klein and the photographers of Magnum (Capa, Bresson) are my sources of inspiration.
Where were these images shot?
These images where taken in Armenia mostly in the capital Erevan but also in the Sevan National Park and also on the way to the city of Ararat.
In 2008 I received an invitation from the Golden Apricot Film Festival in Erevan to present Blood and Incense a short film I made on cockfighting in Bali. At that time, I did not know much about Armenia but I remembered it was situated next to Countries with the mysterious (for me) names like Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan.
I accepted the Festivals invitation with eagerness. To my surprise when I arrived in Yerevan, the posters of the Festival where showing a photo of Antonioni, the director of Blow-Up who had influenced me to becoming a photographer. Also in attendance was Mr. Atom Egoyan a Canadian Armenian film director working in Toronto whose films I enjoy.
What camera did you use and why?
I knew I would have little time to visit the Country because the idea of going to a film festival is to see as many films as possible and to meet other directors. I did see a series of films by director Artavazd Pelechian that influenced my own filmaking. Because I wanted to travel light and carry my camera at the Festival venues, I brought a ContaxT2 with a fixed 38mm/2.8 SonnarT* Carl Zeiss lens. I just love this camera for its portability, the sharpness of the lens, the sound of the shutter. I loaded the ContaxT2 with black & white film.
I wanted to travel with only this camera but at the last minute I packed a Nikon F4 with a zoom 80-200 / 2.8 lens. The Nikon was loaded with color negative film. Now that I look back on my images, I think more than 85% of the shots were taken with the Contax that I carried attached to my belt. And because I was shooting film I did not spend my evenings behind a computer screen but I attended the dinner parties put on by the friendly Festival organizers. I returned to Montreal after this trip and entered the darkroom to process the film and make prints. I miss this process.
A personal word on the digital process:
When I was an advertising photographer using digital, one of the things that upset me was that the art director, the make-up artist and the client would see the images appear on the computer screen before I saw them. Maybe this is one of the reasons I left the commercial trade of picture taking. I was starting to miss the time when a Polaroid was the only instant image that these people could see. Often they would just get tired of looking at the small 6×6 Polaroid and go and chat in the kitchen of the studio.
What do you find special about Armenia?
Off hand I would say: the geographical location, its history (sometimes tragic as the Armenian Genocide), its monasteries (not to be missed), its delicious food (very Mediterranean), its marvelous Brandy (Sir Winston Churchill’s favorite) and last but not least its stern looking (due to shyness?) but welcoming and inquisitive people.
The Festival organizers took us on short trips close to Erevan during which I took many of my photographs. These excursions made me want to see more of the Country, so for 2 days, I skipped the film programs and rented a car with a driver. I think between the driver and I, no more that 50 words were spoken during those two days, as neither knew the other’s language.
With sign language, laughs and an old road map I saw the fortress town of Garni with the Temple of the Sun built in the second half of the 1st century AD.
I also visited the pilgrimage monastery Khor Virap, the mineral water spa of Jermuk and the Brandy factory where I was told this story: When Churchill was asked what the secret of his long life was, he answered: «Never be late for lunch, smoke Havana cigars and drink Armenian brandy.»
From Yerevan you can see mount Ararat where it is believed Noah arrived with his ark when the floodwaters receded. Ararat has such a miraculous beauty that people are deeply touched seeing its panorama. Ararat is off limits to Armenians as Turkey currently occupies it.
How were you and your camera received?
I had no problem taking photographs. Of course I would approach the people in a courteous and non-intrusive manner. Making many signs, smiling a lot, acting politely in order to break the boundaries imposed by my inability to communicate in Armenian language.
Why would you recommend someone to visit Armenia?
For the same reasons I would recommend someone to visit the world: to learn. That is to get to know the «other» and how he or she lives. Armenia is a small Country that has no access to the sea, surrounded by Countries that seem to want a piece of it. I am thinking of Georgia, Turkey, the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region where you could see soldiers taking target practice on the ancient tombs and their cross-stones. The history and the geographical situation seem to have given the Armenians a special character that shows in their facial features.
Many times I would meet families picnicking next to the monasteries, many times they invited me to share their food. I must admit it was hard to resist: good crusty bread, cheeses and sometimes a bit of brandy. On a less socio-politico note I must say that the Countryside with its mountains, semi-arid land and Monasteries built in the stone cliffs makes Armenia a place I would like to revisit.
What is your favorite image? Why?
The older couple sitting on a wooden bench leaning against a tree.
The driver had brought me to this small hotel in a village the name of which I forgot. He just left me there, I felt lost and somewhat worried. I knew he would pick me up the following day. I had two choices: One: Go to bed. 2. Go for a walk. I choose the latter.
I loaded the Contax with tri-X and walked in the village. The camera was my companion. I walked in the back lanes; I came across chess players, women doing laundry.
I saw this couple from across the street; I slowly walked in their direction, all the time smiling and keeping eye contact. I asked them with a nod of the head and lifting the Contax to my eye if I could take a photo. With a nod of the head they replied and then the woman leaned on the man’s shoulder.
Any anecdotes you can share?
An important Armenian director, guest of the Festival, Mr. Goran Paskaljevic invited me to accompany him to Lake Sevan, where one of the greatest Armenian Monastery was built in 1191.
The driver, Mr. Goran and myself arrived at the lake around lunchtime. When we sat at our table, 3 glasses of Armenian apricot brandy were waiting for us courtesy of the restaurant’s owner who had recognized the famous director. We then spent a few hours enjoying the view over Lake Sevan while sipping glasses of brandy, eating cheeses, stuffed vegetables and grilled meats.
I spent the afternoon in a half daze, listening to the 2 men talking in Armenian and reminding myself that I was in Armenia at the Golden Apricot (brandy!) film festival. For a moment I put aside my Contax and enjoyed the moment without the interference of the camera.
I did manage to take of few images of Mr. Goran:
Any closing comments?
I have been privileged and lucky to discover photography at a young age. Photography is similar to a master passkey that opens doors and hearts.
«Have camera will travel» is my motto. But sometimes it is good to leave it in the camera bag and just enjoy the world through ones own eyes.
Thank you Olivier. Thanks Don, Thanks both for creating Inspired Eye.