Armenian photographer Anush Babajanyan has been named as the winner of the 19th Canon Female Photojournalist Award.
The prize, which comes with an €8,000 Canon Female Photojournalist Grant, is awarded annually to "an outstanding photographer in recognition of her contribution to photojournalism".
Anush will receive her award at the closing event of the Visa pour l'Image photojournalism festival in Perpignan in September. University Avenue, a study of inequality in California's Bay Area by last year's winner, Laura Morton, will be on show at the festival. In 2020, Anush will exhibit her own body of work produced for the award, focusing on large families in South Caucasus.
Anush began working in South Caucasus during the Four Day War in 2016, when violence erupted. "I met many families who had five, six and more children," she says. "I began to explore the reasons behind the growing of families."
Anush uses a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM, Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM and Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lenses. The grant will enable her to shoot new subjects in more locations, and developing the project through different themes. "Winning this award means I have support to give much better attention to the families I've been photographing," she says. "This recognition gives an additional and often so needed level of reassurance."
As well as the Caucasus and Turkey, Anush works in the Middle East and West Africa, on assignments for The New York Times, The Washington Post, National Geographic and others. Over the past decade, she's also taken part in post-conflict peace building between Turkey and Armenia, co-founding the #BridgingStories project to bring together young photographers from Turkey and Armenia in 2016. "The same cannot be done so actively with Armenia and Azerbaijan as the conflict is recent and, in fact, ongoing. But I do believe in the power of people-to-people communication even in this issue that has been unresolved for over 25 years," she says.
"I simply do not believe that I am only a journalist and that documenting is all I can do."
Anush is a longstanding advocate for women and minorities, and before becoming a member of VII Photo Agency, she set up 4Plus, a photographic collective for female photographers in Armenia. "Much has been done to support women in photojournalism," she stresses, "and it continues to be important to keep supporting, as the Canon Female Photojournalist Award does. Encouragement, and more importantly recognition, of powerful work keeps being necessary, especially in countries where women's rights in general are restricted."
Her advice for emerging female photojournalists is to be confident, not just in themselves, but in the stories that drive them. "All that matters is what you are concerned about, what you feel is an issue or is an interesting story, what you wish people could know more about. At the same time, develop your visual language. What you see enters you, and through your feelings, personality, your visual language, it becomes a photograph."
Although she herself has only got to know the region over the past few years, Anush has developed a strong connection to the places and people that she met. "This place is sometimes said to be off the map. I almost do not understand the expression and want to ask, 'Off whose map?' I want to invite the attention of as many people as possible to the beauty and pain that is constantly in the air of this conflict zone. And this is what interests me about this place – the gorgeousness that just won't settle. It's like you breathe in, but you just don't breathe out."