As mentioned in “Glimpses into the ARF Photo Archives: What is an Archive, Anyway?”, the materials in the collection offer a mix of items from the late 19th century on, capturing some recognizable historical figures and moments as well as images that have, for good reason or by chance, ended up among the 3,500 or so photographs across almost 40 boxes.
While going through the pictures, smoothing out the kinks in the catalog, performing additional research where needed, and uploading the images onto the website, I have pondered on a few themes and take-aways to share. This series of articles for The Armenian Weekly is meant to draw attention to these pieces of the jigsaw puzzle of Armenian history and, above all, to invite readers to have a look at arfarchives.org/photograph for themselves. You never know what you might find there: an ancestor or relative, a friend, or an accompaniment to a school project or community event.
In the previous article in the series, I noted that there are many items marked “unknown” in the collection – especially “Unknown Man.” Here is one typical such entry.
Another similar image is, to me, among the most arresting of the portraits in the ARF photo archives.
There is a depth to the expression in this picture that makes me consider it to be more of a work of art than a bureaucratic record.
These two pictures showcase a pattern of portraits, some of them with numbers noted on the back. They seem to be from the early 20th century, possibly members or recruits for the ARF in the United States.
There is a chance these are images of prisoners of war from the Soviet army, at a camp in Germany – maybe the displaced persons at Funkerkaserne? But who would have taken these photographs and why, and how could they have ultimately found themselves in the ARF photo archives?
One of my favorite parts of going through the pictures is taking note of such mysteries and trying to solve them. Although the exact source of these images is yet to be verified, the quality of the pictures and the clothing certainly suggest a later time than the others displayed.
Those are some of the patterns to note in these specific pictures. One pattern in general in the ARF photo archives is that the unknowns are almost always of an “Unknown Man.” There are very few pictures in the collection that include women or depict women alone. This may not be so surprising, given the more patriarchal norms at the turn of the 20th century, but it is a pattern that holds even among the pictures from later.
Mustaches galore! The early 20th century was a time for unabashed facial hair. Out of the photographs uploaded so far, the most magnificent mustache award without a doubt goes to Garabed Bedrosian.
This was a bit more of a fun look at the ARF photo archives. Click through arfarchives.org/photograph and see if you can identify patterns or items of interest for yourself. A lot has happened in the past century and a half, needless to say. Many aspects of Armenian history and culture find their reflection among those photographs. Among other things, maybe you will find part of your family’s journey echoed in the pictures as well.