Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the small, landlocked country of Armenia has been in a constant state of sociopolitical flux. None of the elections in this young republic have been considered free and fair; in 1999, Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsyan was assassinated, along with several other parliamentary leaders; roughly a third of the Armenian population lives in poverty; and the country continues its quest for reparations and the acknowledgement of the Armenian genocide from the Turkish government. But Armenia’s shifting landscapes have received less attention from foreign photographers than those of other post-Soviet countries, like Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, which underwent comparatively rapid and spectacular changes.
In his photo series L’inachevé (“The Unfinished”), shot between 2012 and 2014, French ethnologist and photographer Julien Lombardi documents this underrepresented transitional period in Armenia’s history. “You can almost feel in the air that transition has become a state of being for Armenia,” Lombardi, who is of Armenian descent, told Hyperallergic. “This is truly a territory waiting for a new history. Even time feels different there — all the layers of the country’s past are visible at once across its various landscapes.”
Shot slowly on a tripod with a medium-format camera, these photographs of architecture, landscapes, and interiors don’t tell a particular story so much as capture a feeling of “incompleteness,” as Lombardi calls it. In some of his understated, poetic images, this incompleteness is quite literal — they depict in-progress construction sites; children bathing in the fountains of a deserted city; inaccessible trains and railways that often go nowhere; an office filled with exposed wires, a retro computer, and a partially finished wood floor. In other photographs, it’s hard to tell exactly what’s going on, and this opacity is kind of the point: a shirtless boy stands with his face in his hands outside an abandoned building; an old man prays with a rosary in a red armchair perched on old stone stairs.
Other photographs focus on awkward juxtapositions of the old and the new: modern multiplexes looming over cobblestone streets; a Soviet commemorative monument to a fallen World War II solder standing in patchy grass. “The vestiges of the Soviet era are scattered around like absurd shapes that can’t be erased,” Lombardi says. “Still, in this understandably wounded environment, the promise of a better future creates a peculiar atmosphere.”