Fantastic Photos of Chechen Culture From a Young Phenom

A group of Chechen dancers wearing traditional costume wait backstage before their performance in the capital of war-torn Grozny. From the series 'Goodbye, My Chechnya' ©Diana Markosian

A group of Chechen dancers wearing traditional costume wait backstage before their performance in the capital of war-torn Grozny. From the series ‘Goodbye, My Chechnya’ – ©Diana Markosian

If young photographers want to succeed, they would do well to heed this word of advice from acclaimed photographer Diana Markosian: Get as far away from the photo herd as possible. Go your own way.

“Part of what helps is not being in New York,” says Markosian, 24. “When you surround yourself with people doing the same thing as you, you’ll get trapped in the headspace of gossip, of being competitive, and of cliques. It’s kind of like high school, and I’m not interested in any of that.”

This epiphany came to her while working for a wire service covering the aftermath of a January, 2011, terrorist bombing in Moscow. Surrounded by seasoned wire photographers with the latest gear, she knew she couldn’t compete. She worked out that hard news wasn’t her thing. “I realized I sucked at news photography,” Markosian says with a laugh. “I needed to do what I was good at. I went to Chechnya two weeks later.”

The move paid off. When the name of the bombing suspect, Magomed Yevloyev, came to light, Russian authorities closed his village to outsiders and journalists. Markosian was undeterred, even after a photographer was arrested attempting to photograph the bomber’s family. At 6 a.m. one morning, as security guards prayed at the mosque, she slipped in, located the bomber’s mother Roza Yevloyev, made a portrait that became aReuters photo of the year, and slipped away.

“The portrait got some recognition but more than that I realized this is what I had to do,” says Markosian. “I couldn’t be where everyone else was. I can’t be where everyone else is.”

She soon began her project Goodbye, My Chechnya about Muslim girls coming of age in Chechnya. It established her reputation.

Markosian’s work of emotional and political significance appears in news outlets across the globe. For all her talk of being an outsider, her resumé reads like that of someone annointed by the phototocracy. She’s picked up a Burn 2013 Emerging Photographer Grant, attended in the prestigious invite-only World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass, and recently got a nod at the Aftermath Project Grant.

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See more of Diana Markosian’s work here.