A clock is ticking loudly, drawing attention to the silence in the room where Magnum nominee Diana Markosian and her long-lost father sit across the dining table from each other. "What were you thinking about, when you wrote the letter?" asks Armenian-American photographer Diana. Her father replies, "I don't want there to be pain. I want there to be love." Love is what Diana and her father have been working towards after being separated for 15 years, before Diana tracked him down in Armenia. She captured the meeting in a video as part of a multimedia project, where raw feelings of abandonment, longing, awkwardness and distance are palpable.
This very personal style of photography has earned Diana countless awards and mentions on 'ones to watch' lists, as well as a Magnum nominee membership. However, it wasn't always on the cards that her work would take this direction. She didn't discover the key idea that shaped the way she tells stories until 2011, when she jotted down a passage from the 1995 independent movie Smoke by Wayne Wang and Paul Auster.
In the film, the two characters Paul and Auggie look over a collection of photographs, and Paul complains that Auggie's pictures all look the same. Auggie responds, "You'll never get it if you don't slow down, my friend."
"It honestly felt life-changing," Diana recalls. "It was like somebody from above telling me, 'Hey, the way you're working isn't leading to anything. You could be much more productive if you just stayed with a specific moment, a specific person and just invest in that.'"
Before watching the film, Diana was living a hectic life, trying to build a photography career in Chechnya. "As a photographer, I think I was so used to being in a state of responding and reacting to everything," she continues. "This passage in Smoke shifted my perspective of what photography meant to me. It wasn't about responding any more, it was really about being present and being able to stand still in that present."
This newly found insight didn't change Diana's practise immediately. The slow awakening manifested itself two years later when she travelled to Armenia to meet her father. She hadn't seen him since she was a young child, when she left for the United States with her mother.
"I started to build a relationship with a man I never knew and that forced me to slow down, because a relationship is all about time," she says. "Since then, the type of work I took on changed. It became more personal and more about my own life than the work that I was doing before. It's a big part of who I became as an individual, as well as a photographer."
Diana created an introspective series of photographs called Inventing My Father, using a Canon EOS 5D Mark II with Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM and Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM lenses (though she now uses the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV). She accompanied these glimpses of time they spent together with captions conveying her mixed emotions in each moment. "I try to stand close to that body of work because that's where I want to be speaking from as an artist," Diana continues. "I want it to be personal because anything other than that feels like it's not enough."
At the moment, Diana is making a film about her mother, a project which has yet again forced her to slow down and trust the process. "The lead actress who was portraying my mother dropped out a day before the film," she continues. "It felt like the hardest day of my career, but I was able to tap into the feeling that things happen for their own reason. It has forced me to reassess things and push for something better."
When Diana imagines a different reality, in which she hadn't learned to slow down, she thinks she would have struggled to cope as an artist. "I think my first response would have been frustration, whereas now I can just close my eyes and say, 'It's OK that it's not working'. My process is very different now; everything that goes wrong becomes a part of the art I make, so to me nothing goes wrong. It's about having the patience to understand that it's all a part of the journey."