Type “What to see in Yerevan” into Google and a myriad of postcard-perfect images appear. Rising to the top are photos of the Cascade, an impressive stairway connecting the center of the city to the Monument neighborhood; the sprawling Republic Square with its musical fountains and clock tower; and the stately Matenadaran, a museum and research institute housing Armenia’s ancient manuscripts. You won’t see these places in Eduard Kankanyan’s (@edkanyan) photography. At least, not front and center.
Kankanyan, a Yerevan native of 30 years and art director by trade, uses his smartphone to capture "Yerevan in details." From century-old doors to winding streets and back alleys decorated with street art, his Instagrams, taken in transit from one place to another, reveal a city travelers don't always see. Speaking from Armenia’s capital, Kankanyan shares what inspires his process and his recommendations for travelers who want to experience Yerevan through a local lens.
What draws you to photography?
I used to take professional photos for my work, but I didn’t like carrying that heavy camera all the time with me. With smartphones I started to take photos just for fun, because you have your phone all the time with you. Now all my photos are taken with smartphones.
When I used to travel, I always looked at Instagram and searched for hashtags for the location I was going to travel to. I realized that there are very few photos of Yerevan and Armenia. So I thought that I should do something to promote the Armenian hashtags. That was the starting point for this.
Do you use specific hashtags?
You don’t see the typical Yerevan landmarks in your Instagram posts. Why is that?
Those kind of photos you can find everywhere, starting with Google. If you search "Yerevan," you see all the landmarks. Nothing interesting is there. If you search Instagram, you see user photos that are not professional, but they show you the real city.
Looking through your collection, I noticed that one image appears several times. You caption it “the most beautiful door in Yerevan.” Tell me about this door and where this is in the city.
It’s on Abovyan Street, one of the main streets. Actually it’s on my way to work. Usually, I don’t go out to take photos. They are mostly on my way to going somewhere. I see that door all the time, and it’s really one of the most beautiful doors in Yerevan. I took a picture of that door, then a few years later we did a project branding the restaurant in that building. The door was reconstructed, and I took the picture for the second time.
You caption another “three styles of architecture in one view.” This was at the Tufenkian Historic Yerevan Hotel. Is it common to see different architectural styles in one place?
Yes, because everything is old, particularly on that street. Tufenkian Hotel was built five years ago, but it kept the main part of the [original] building—the facade—and built the hotel above that. The black facade is pre-Soviet era, and the arch is modern.
Does more architecture remain from one era than others? Is there a balance of old and new?
There are no places where you can find only one type of architecture. In most cases we have a mixture of 19th-century, Soviet-era and modern-day architecture.
What do first-time visitors often overlook when they come to Yerevan?
First-time visitors mostly visit lively, crowded areas with monuments and cafes, like the Cascade. But if you go deeper, there are streets like Koghbatsi, Arami and Hanrapetutyan that have amazing 19th- and early 20th-century architecture that are mostly overlooked.
A follower of yours wrote “It’s incredible how different you see things we are used to.” You’ve lived in the city for all of your life. Do you ever catch yourself saying “Oh I’ve seen this already”?
When I started to take photos, I started to pay attention to details. Before that I would just walk through the street. You don’t look above, you don’t look at the architecture. When you have it on your mind that you should take a good shot, you look around and find many things that are interesting.
Street art shows up quite a bit in your photography. Where are the best places to find it?
There is a cool series of famous writer street art. They are not in one place and are by different artists. I love the portrait of Edgar Allan Poe, which is on Abovyan Street.
In addition to street art, there are a number of statues in your photos. Do you have a favorite?
There are some really amazing modern statues in Cascade area, and the white statue of Armenian painter Martiros Saryan [near the Opera House].
In one image it appears that you’re looking down from the top of a statue. Where is this?
It’s Matenadaran, the museum of Armenian writing. The statue is of Mesrop Mashtots who invented the Armenian alphabet. I was doing a project there when a huge bus with tourists came. Everyone ran to the monument and started taking pictures from the front. I thought that it would be fun to take pictures from above.
You also photograph street cafes and patios. What's your favorite?
Where would you recommend that travelers go to see, as you write in your Instagram bio, “Yerevan in details”?
There’s a huge place called Kond. It is one of the old districts in Yerevan. It has very narrow streets, small houses and you can easily get lost. For me, it was a discovery. I live right in front of that district, but never went. Instagram and taking photos took me there. It is a very authentic place, but it’s not promoted.
Interesting. For what reason?
There are no cafes, no shops. People just live there. You can’t find something like it anywhere else in Yerevan. It’s not very clean, it’s not very cozy, but you can see how people live.
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Head to his Instagram for more visual journals.