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Obama’s photographer Scout Tufankjian reveals her secrets

Obama’s photographer Scout Tufankjian reveals her secrets

YEREVAN. – Not everyone is able to learn from someone who photographed presidents, especially the U.S. president. However, the students of TUMO center were provided with an opportunity to attend the class of American photojournalist of Armenian origin Scout Tufankjian. Here, in Armenia, she is known as a photographer who shot Obama’s presidential campaign as well as “The Armenian Diaspora Project.”

“My friend Sara Anjargolian runs the photography program here and I have heard about TUMO. It is an amazing organization and when she asked me if I would come over to teach a workshop class I immediately said yes,” Scout tells us in the center prior to her lesson.

She believes the most important thing for a photographer is to be interested in what he/she is doing.

“I am interested in people, their lives and stories,” Scout says.

Listening how enthusiastically Scout talks about working with children, you can see that she is really interested in teaching.

“The most difficult thing is having different levels in the class. Some of the kids have been photographing for a long time and some are new to it. The most difficult thing is making sure that the more experienced kids are not bored, while the less experienced kids are not left behind,” she says.

It may seem that making photos of politicians is not that interesting: serious people wearing ties, they hardly can express a lot of emotions. However, Scout notes that she was not shooting a politician, but presidential campaign – people surrounding the president and supporting him.

“The supporters are what interest me about political campaign, the people who seem to give up their lives in order to try to get someone elected. I do not really consider myself to be a real political photographer. I photographed Obama for 3 years, but the whole time I was photographing him, this story to me was as much if not more about his supporters than it was about him and his family,” she says.

President is a public figure but nowadays not only politicians are in the limelight. With the advent of social networks and Instagram, millions of people turned into nonprofessional photographers. Some are posting the photos of a party, while others are taking photos of food and even dress they bought minutes ago. Being a professional photographer, Scout is not concerned about it. The more people are paying attention to photography the better it is, she believes.

Talking to her, I could not but ask a piece of advice. “I shoot with Nikon and Leica. I shoot with two different cameras. Now I shoot with Leica, it is quieter, smaller and easier,” she says pointing at her camera which is next to her event during the interview. “My first camera was a kind of a plastic camera. I also used to shoot with my father’s old Voigtländer.”

Scout has positive attitude towards modern devices and Photoshop, too. She believes it is just a matter of trying to match up the subject matter with the right tool.

“For example when I was in Anatolia photographing all old Armenian villages, I shot a lot with an iPhone because I’ve seen the pictures of people who fled the genocide. They were all kind of square. The stories that these people were told and retold many times and they are almost like fairy tales. So I shot with an iPhone to get the sense of the past and story-telling, kind of fantasy versus reality. But I would not shoot an Egyptian revolution with an iPhone because it is not about their relationship with past and the present,” the photographer says, adding she would like to visit North Africa, West Africa, India, Yemen and many other places.

For all those who want to take photos she has two secrets of photography: first of all you must take a lot of pictures. Secondly, you must shoot the things you are interested in, the things you are curious about, something you do not know but want to know.

“Famous photojournalist Robert Capa once said the most important thing about the photography is to like the people you shoot and let them know it,” she says.

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