THIS IS… HOW WE LIVE
Mar 22nd, 2010
I had the pleasure of meeting Sara Anjargolian for breakfast recently
to discuss her upcoming photography exhibit and book release called
"How We Live," which documents life on the margins in Armenia. When I
met with Sara, I didn’t know very much about the project other than
it involved photography and an upcoming event. What I thought would
be an interview with an artist, turned out to be an interview with a
humanitarian who has elevated peoples’ lives, art, and social service
to a new level.
After graduating summa cum laude from UCLA with a BA in political
science and public policy, Sara went on to pursue a law degree and
received her Juris Doctorate at UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall in 2000. To
unwind from the daily grind of law school, Sara started taking classes
in photography. Little did she know that she was laying the groundwork
for an incredible body of work that would touch so many peoples’ lives.
After passing the California bar and working as a trial attorney for
two years at the Justice Department in Washington D.C., Sara realized
she wanted more. As grateful as she was for her strong educational
background and opportunities, she was craving an adventure.
Adventure is just what she got. She received a Fulbright scholarship
in 2002 to live and work in Armenia. Although the grant was for a term
of ten months, Sara lived in Armenia for two and a half years. She
worked with Bars Media, a well-known documentary film studio in
Yerevan, and produced several documentaries about contemporary issues
in Armenia. She also learned a great deal about visual storytelling
and photography. In the years she lived in Armenia, she was able to
experience and document the country from a viewpoint most people never
see. She also put her law degree to good use during her last year in
Armenia when Sara served as an Associate Professor and Assistant Dean
at the American University of Armenia’s law department. In late 2004,
Sara decided to return to California. Since then, she has been working
as an attorney with the City of Los Angeles.
After she returned to Los Angeles, Sara continued to pursue
social impact documentary photography projects and would take every
opportunity to travel back to Armenia. A project she has been working
on for the last two years, called "Not Here," documents the global
story of labor migration through the stories of nine separated families
living between Los Angeles and Yerevan.
Sara met, interviewed, and photographed men and women who had
immigrated to Los Angeles, some illegally, and were working in the
shadows to be able to support their families back home in Armenia. She
found that despite the difficult circumstances of their lives, the
migrants in Los Angeles and their families back home in Armenia,
had a strong yearning to be heard and to tell their stories. She
also realized that she was the only link some of these families
had to each other. When asked about how the families felt about
their lives being so intimately captured by her camera, Sara said:
"They wanted to be heard, they wanted to tell me the details of their
lives. Many of the labor migrants I met live their lives daily within
the confines of the same four walls. This gave them a validity they
lacked within their day-to-day life."
It was during this process when Antranig Kasbarian, Executive Director
of the Tufenkian Foundation, approached Sara in 2009 and proposed
a new project. The Tufenkian Foundation, which has been working
in Armenia for over a decade promoting social justice and serving
vulnerable families, noticed a rapid rise in poverty in Armenia. The
World Bank reported in 2009 that for the first time in over a decade,
poverty was on the rise in Armenia, with 28% of the population living
in circumstances of extreme poverty. The Foundation wanted to raise
awareness about the situation and wanted to do it through photography
and visual storytelling.
Sara accepted the opportunity, went back to Armenia in July of 2009
for a period of three weeks, and documented the lives of fifteen
families living along society’s margins in Armenia.
It’s no surprise that the photos she returned with speak volumes. She
has managed to capture images that come to life in color and detail.
They jump out at you from the page, bringing humanity and life to the
person who is living this story. She went beyond the darkness that
generally represents poverty – families unable to meet basic food,
shelter, and healthcare needs. Sara’s goal was to show that the people
she photographed were as human as we are. And that is how the title
"How We Live" came into being. While Sara captured poverty, alcoholism,
domestic violence, malnutrition and the barest form of survival,
she had a much larger plan in mind. Her goal for this project is to
eliminate the separation people feel when introduced to the lives of
people who are different, less fortunate, and far away.
It is the feeling of "us" and "them" she hopes to eradicate with the
upcoming art exhibit and book release.
Sara also had the privilege of working with three other amazing people
on this project. Narineh Mizaeian is a Los Angeles based designer
who has received her degree in Architecture. She is currently an
Associate at Frank Gehry’s firm where she is working on a number of
projects that extend as far as Abu Dhabi. Narineh is the designer and
curator of the "How We Live" exhibit and she has designed something
incredibly original and cutting-edge. The exhibit features over 40
large prints, measuring 5×7 feet, suspended by an intricate tensile
network which draw the viewer into the lives of the people depicted
and which represent the larger issues of societal connectedness or
increasing disconnect. The "How We Live" exhibit design is conceived
as an experience, demanding the viewer to delve into the lives of
those photographed. The people and places captured in the photographs
are emphasized, employing the same gravity as the exhibit viewer and
occupying the same place and time.
Karlo Gharabegian, who is a four-time Emmy winner currently with CBS,
is also involved in bringing "How We Live" to life. He is creating a
short documentary that incorporates Sara’s photographs and the raw
video interviews she shot with the families, to tell the story of
the current poverty crisis in Armenia, and the process of creating
"How We Live."
Mary Minassians designed the "How We Live" book, which is a hardcover
book of photography being published by the Tufenkian Foundation,
and which features Sara’s photographs and their accompanying stories.
Having a strong background in graphic design and having worked on
projects for Disney, The Simpsons, and also a documentary called Beyond
Commitment, Mary engrossed herself in the "How We Live" project and
utilized her extraordinary aesthetic abilities in communicating the
experience of living on the margins in Armenia in the pages of what
promises to be a beautiful and moving book.
The collaborative efforts of these four talented individuals is highly
apparent, not just within the art, but within their hearts. "How
We Live" is truly a labor of love, as each has dedicated countless
hours to create something beautiful that has brought social impact
photography and art to a whole new level. Be sure to look for
the upcoming photo essay and behind the scenes coverage about the
creation of "How We Live." Also, mark your calendars for the "How We
Live" exhibit opening, Saturday, March 27th, 2010, at 7pm at Casitas
Studios, 3229 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90039. For more information
about the exhibit please visit You can also visit
to see more of Sara’s photography and work.