By Reggie Ellis
Some residents were a little shocked to see nude still-life photographs hanging on the walls of their hometown gallery.
But after speaking with photographer Albert Hovnanian, you begin to understand how he arrived at his creative crossroads of life and death.
"My parents were the only ones in their family that were not raped and slaughtered," Hovnanian said.
Of Armenian decent, Hovanian's parents fled Armenia during the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1916. Armenia was the only Christian country within the Ottoman Empire ruled by the Muslim Young Turks government. According to Wikipedia, the free internet encyclopedia, "The Young Turks feared the Armenian community, which they had believed was more sympathetic to allied powers (specifically Russia) than to the Ottoman Empire. In early 1915 battalions of Russian Armenians organized the recruiting of Turkish Armenians from behind the Turkish lines. In response, the Young Turk government executed 300 Armenian nationalist intellectuals and ordered the deportation of the 1,800,000 Armenians living in Anatolia to Syria and Mesopotamia. In the process several hundred thousand died from starvation, disease or exhaustion. Several hundred thousands more were massacred by Kurdish militia and the Ottoman army, giving a total of 1,500,000 Armenians dead." To this day, the Muslim government of Turkey still denies that these atrocities ever took place, which is part of the reason it has gone largely unnoticed and ignored in historical textbooks.
"Wars are almost always religious," Hovnanian said. "It's ironic, religious people should be preaching peace."
Hovnanian's parents -- his father a doctor and his mother a homemaker -- settled on a 20-acre ranch in Kingsburg, where Hovnanian was born.
"We were still discriminated against here in the Valley," he said.
As Hovnanian grew up his interest in art grew within him, but he never believed he had the talent to become a sketch artist, sculptor or painter. In the early 1940s he discovered photography and bought his first camera. He made many trips to Yosemite National Park to capture its picturesque peaks and valleys. But in 1942 he was drafted and sent off to fight a war against another genocidal government, Nazi Germany.
"I know that Ansel Adams was there [in Yosemite] when I was there," Hovnanian said. "Who knows, I could have been [as big as] Ansel Adams."
Forced to sell off his equipment before being dispatched, he was unable to renew his interest in photography. Instead, he opened his own real estate brokerage in Kingsburg. About 10 years ago, Hovnanian, 55, took up a serious study of fine art photography. He has since completed 27 units of study at Fresno City College and has participated in photography workshops throughout California and Nevada.
Much of his work revolves around the contrast of life and "unlife." One of his photographs has fresh fruit set within a rotting tree stump. Another called "Poppy Field" shows two mannequins set in a field of poppies. One of his trilogies shows a brick wall with graffiti spray painted in memory of a fallen friend. It reads, "Rob Dog, To Many Years Cried, To Many Hearts Broken, Dear Rob Dog, Here is a funky token from all your homies you left, we all hope your soul may rest, good bye for now but not forever, for some day will all be together. Jesus died for you."
"Death has a significant meaning in life," Hovnanian said. "I use unartistic forms to make artistic creations because I want my art to be completely original, something no one has thought of before.”
He uses nude female models to illustrate what he considers the "finest art form of life in the whole world. I exemplify the female body, I don't trash it," he said.
Growing up hearing the story of the massacre of Hovnanian's relatives and many Armenians was enough for a young boy to be drawn to creation rather than destruction.