John Stanmeyer (johnstanmeyer)

@johnstanmeyer

National Geographic Photographer | Filmmaker | Field Recordist | Writer | Storyteller | to purchase print visit:

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There are always moments of indescribable uniqueness in Armenia. One of many is house slippers. Slippers being worn by women and men, not in a house. On my first trip, now more than ten to Armenia, we kept meeting people in fields, on driveways, wearing pink, blue, orange house shoes. Each slipper originated from neighboring Turkey. Until recently, I forgot about these furry shoe wearers, the visual nonsense that I find fascinating. Each connecting to an individual personality: Pink with yellow bows worn by 12-year-old Harutyun Aghmtyan...brownish-yellow slippers cushioning the feet of 44-year-old Hamlet Khorikya, the head of Zarishat village...50-year-old Heriqnaz Saghatelyan, who wore a leopard print jacket with her pink house slippers...9-year-old Gevorg Aghmtyan, sported a mighty fine blue, in combination with an image of a happy dog chewing a bone, topped with pink socks...while 58-year-old Lia Avagyan, went more conservative when out walking in a field of rocks, wearing dark orange with gold outlined flowers. This complete unimportance and simpleness fills me with curiosity. Now this evening, I noticed something else…each had their own walking stick. A compliment to the bright fuzzy shoes we came upon in unexpected places. I forgot and will ask next time I am with the house slipper wearers of Armenia..."Where are you going in those comfortable shoes?" ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #armenia #houseslippers #houseshoes #shoes #walkingstick #random #distractions #remembering from the @NatGeo story #ghostlands @VIIphoto #fromthearchives

Strange, we have a day that connects to what we do. How something we make every day is no different than breathing. So much to consider on World Photography Day…I could continue with Afghanistan, depressed by the US and partnering nations in their global abuse of humanity. Tonight, returning to Armenia in the ever-needing disconnect to the story…blue and palish-pink Lada’s, mud, blue gas meter, blue box, pink bag, listing ladder, and a distant blue garage. Random oddities. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #armenia #cars #lada #mud #pinkbag #bluegasmeter #bluecar #pinkishcar #bluegarage #triptych #random #distractions #remembering #WorldPhotographyDay #shotoniphone from the @NatGeo story #ghostlands @VIIphoto #fromthearchives

These few days, I have been publishing moments of history for our collective reference. We cannot change what has occurred in Afghanistan, nor can anyone predict what the future will be, or one minute from now if you kindly took a moment to read these words. All that is possible is to understand the present, feeling with our awareness in making change, through doing. If you want to help Afghanistan post debacle created by the United States and many other countries, especially for the most vulnerable — women and girls — on the closing two slides are emails and links to offer support. Not only with words or prayers. Supporting by providing guidance to help female (and male) journalists get out of Afghanistan and support NGOs still in-country for the betterment of those left behind. Please join me in giving up a latte, dinner at a restaurant, or in not purchasing yet another pair of shoes by giving hope to others. Again, we cannot change the past. When I made a mistake, my mother always told me, “John, what’s done is done.” With this power of awareness, we reference history. That we no longer repeat our past mistakes. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #afghanistan @doctorswithoutborders @theiwmf @afghanaidhq @internationalmedicalcorps

 

Another depressing day, I was listening to Joe Biden. Words we’ve heard uttered by every United States president, like his predecessors. Sure, Biden inherited this mess. This suffering began well before the US, and other foreign nations entered Afghanistan twenty years ago. It is one thing to inspire essential governance in a failed, ruined state under the oppression of the Taliban. When leaving, it is crucial to go in kindness, dare we ask, with a sense of dignity… ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ During many visits to Afghanistan, the strangest occurred while following US and International Coalition troops on patrol. Everyone I met was professional, welcoming. Their role was just one — to follow orders. There was also a constant energy I could feel from every soldier…Why are we here? ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ About a year ago, when then-President Donald Trump signed a peace accord with the Taliban, events, as we have witnessed, were predictable. An entire nation of people desperate to flee the Taliban, yesterday men, clung to a US military plane, some shortly after falling to their death. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ There will be a mass exodus out of Afghanistan, once again primarily by men. Leaving women, children to fend for themselves in an even harsher patriarchal society ruled again by the Taliban. A brutal, male-dominated regime of medieval mentality, empowered by failures presented by every previous occupier. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ You can pray all you want for the betterment of Afghanistan, especially for the women and girls. In kindness, prayers don’t help. Nor is this destiny. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ We’re witnessing the failure of the United States and 40 other nations who played a role during the last twenty years — today abandoning 38 million people. Following a legacy of every foreign military that stepped foot in Afghanistan for hundreds of years. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ In honesty, I have no idea what to do. Or what will occur... ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #afghanistan @potus @vp @realdonaldtrump @barackobama @georgewbush (closing video from @thedailyshow)

I met Saliha two days after the Taliban fled Kabul. She had been a journalist for the women's magazine Meerman (Women), losing her job when the Taliban came to rule Afghanistan seven years earlier. Saliha was a symbol of strength and hope, and was the cover of Time magazine for the December 3, 2001, issue, Lifting The Veil. That week I also spent three days at the Malalia Maternity Hospital in Kabul. There were few medical supplies at the hospital. The rate of deaths among women, especially during childbirth, was the highest on earth — the Taliban had little interest in healthcare, especially for women. At the Marastoon Mental Health Center for women in Kabul, I met Jamila. She was left by her parents at the hospital due to shock as a child by war in the '80s. Jamila, then 30, had spent eighteen years of her life living in the Marastoon Mental Health Hospital. For two years before we met, she had lived inside this room, eating under a blanket on her bed, defecating on the floor and cloth mattress — the Taliban did not care, funding for mental health during their rule was barely $1 per day, per person. Before leaving Afghanistan in the first of many visits, I walked by the Aliam Burka store in Kabul. They sold just one item demanded by the Taliban for all women to wear — blue burkas. Reading and seeing what is occurring today in Afghanistan, my heart and spirit are broken. Twenty years later, the United States, and the world, have abandoned the people of Afghanistan. That cover of Time is today’s prophecy as we go back in time, and I worry for every woman, every young girl by these words….”The shocking story of how the Taliban brutalized the women of Afghanistan. How much better will their lives be now?” ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ @potus @vp @realdonaldtrump @barackobama @georgewbush #afghanistan

Continuing my preoccupation with the overlooked strangeness around us, a repurposing in endless creation I’ve seen all over Armenia. Someone had taken landscape art to a whole new level, gathering eleven shells of automobiles — including a bus — making a most long beautiful installation art. We had to stop to take in all this incredibleness along a dirt road that led from Gyumri to the western part of the country. More of the nothing about the story I am working on, more of everything that fills my happiness…I love Armenia ❤️ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ (This could possibly be the widest stitched panorama on Instagram...22 photographs. Pinch in on the second slide to appreciate all the wonder) ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #armenia #gyumri #panorama #cars #bus #installationart #random #distractions #remembering from the @NatGeo story #ghostlands @VIIphoto #fromthearchives

I have enjoyed sharing with you these continuing vignettes from Armenia. The distractions I need when working on complicated, emotional stories such as Ghostlands. This evening, another collection of simple photographs, pieces of cars I would like to one day drive, maybe own…I love old Russian Lada's. Each resting quietly at people's homes we visited. Along sides of roads. The random fascinations that never would be published in National Geographic. It fills everything for my state of mind while attempting to find meaning. Only by losing ourselves to simple beauty can we see the most profound beauty that is before us. The diversions needed to bring clarity to why I am, you are, here. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #armenia #cars #lada #volga21 #truck #random #distractions #remembering from the @NatGeo story #ghostlands @VIIphoto #fromthearchives

 

These days of silence, I have been in communion, a most beautiful giving with photographers. In opening the old abused home of love and kindness where I live with @elfriede.the.great.dane for more than a week of visual cleansing in co-giving with @alice__driver. With us were ten visual storytellers...from Peru, Panama, Turkey, the United States, and from where this equally old and abused Soviet-era bus stop once gave equal kindness and love, Armenia. Living within yurts in the garden, each day, night, we gathered in the yard, the purple porch, living room, and kitchen, a commune as a family with one another. Not in making images. In finding meaning to why we are here, what is our purpose. Often last week, I shared thoughts regarding the unnoticeable that can only be felt before seeing. When we turn off our internal ramblings, we remove our uncertainties, fears, and preconceived ideas that we know something, when in reality, knowing is our ignorance. In, I don't know, our most extraordinary opportunities. In such mind-space is when the Mystic Portals appear. On the surface, rarely do these Portals seem meaningful. Only by letting go and entering do these passageways whisper to us. Falling into the vastness of what is before us and within. It occurred here at this bus stop, one of many moments while in Armenia working on the National Geographic story, Ghostlands. Seeing this massive relic in disrepair along the road between Gyumri and Yerevan, we turned around as if being pulled. Neglected and unloved behind trees that swayed in the wind, another piece of nothing to do with the story, every reason we spent more than an hour filming and photographing its presence. Thereafter, we returned to Bagaran, another moment that connected to the short story I published here on May 30. Visually, this bus stop is unimpressive. Sharing it this evening as I slowly return from a most beautiful workshop I've hosted. Amongst the giving beautiful people, who joined in entering for a week, our own Mystic Portal. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #armenia #YerevanGyumriRoad #busstop #wind #birdssinging #tree #neglected #abused #love #remembering from the @NatGeo story #ghostlands @VIIphoto #fromthearchives

Returning often in Bagaran to visit a fellow named Vachagan, frequently sung in rhyme thereafter, "Vachagan of Bagaran," we wandered the village. Not aimlessly. Meandering, in wondering at everything. I usually share a mantra here, hoping to inspire photographers in the importance of letting go of the story they are working on. Not in abandonment. Releasing our overthinking to discover why you exist. Why we are here wherever footsteps lead us. In Bagaran, a village along Armenia's western edge with Turkey (named after every inhabitant's ancestral town of Bagaran/Bakran in the Anatolia region just over the border), everything in new Bagaran was interesting. Sure, this is only a simple old Russian jeep, maybe a UAZ (pronounced, Wáz), and a cow. Both resting as evening gave a moment of faint green light. After these walks of letting go, I understood why we were there. Why we had to be, meant to be. On a later visit to The Vachagan of Bagaran, finally appeared the moment I shared on May 30th and the closing photograph in @natgeo, Ghostlands. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #armenia #Bagaran #jeep #bushes #cow #remembering from the @natgeo story #ghostlands @viiphoto #fromthearchives

In the usual getting lost while knowing where you're going, somehow we ended up in the tiniest of villages, here being Nor Artik. There was no reason except to take the long way towards Samvel Torosyan's home. The kind man with pickle-sized fingers who sang songs about Sason, a former Armenian village in eastern Turkey (you can listen to Samvel singing songs of his ancestor's homeland in my story from June 9). It was those westward mountains across the border, and it was also my dreamlike thoughts of old Russian Lada's that caused us to stop, just to wonder. With drying clothing playing with each other in the wind coming from the snowcap mountains of Turkey, a car of fascination, I was thankful. Unexpectedly, a girl came running, looking for a secret place, not finding behind the Lada while in hide-and-seek with friends. That simple moment I became more than grateful, overly fulfilled in this tender little place before moving closer to Samvel. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #armenia #NorArtik #laundry #laundrylinedivine #wind #lada #mountains #snow #remembering from the @natgeo story #ghostlands @viiphoto #fromthearchives

I have a peculiar interest in the pipes of Armenia. They are everywhere, rising from the earth as unending serpents, transporting heating fuel towards uncountable homes. We returned three times to these particular tubes of enchantment located somewhere in the north, a need for distractions from stories to unravel mysteries in the excitement of simple beauty. I have seen these continuous entanglements of metal elsewhere. A legacy of the Soviet days, magical Loch Ness' on land, rising, then falling, across all the Caucasus and elsewhere in Central Asia. I imagine them being the most extensive art installations on earth. Thank you for indulging me in simplicity. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #armenia #fuelpiles #heatingfuel #artinstalltion #lada #car #automobile from the @natgeo story #ghostlands @viiphoto #fromthearchives

 

There was something about this car, one of many randomly discarded automobiles in rural areas of Armenia. Simple strange art installations of fascination. In my inability to not find the simplest of distractions exciting, we returned twice to visit this golden car, stuffed complete with perfectly placed twigs of bushes and nature. Martiros Gasparyan had become the owner of the 1982 Mercedes 300D, his kind dog curious why I kept appearing. The more we did, the more incredibly interested I became, and so began a Tale of The Mercedes Benz: The original owner of this Mercedes worked extremely hard to save enough money to purchase such an automobile. He flew to Germany to buy the car with cash, driving the 300D overland back to Armenia. One week with his new car in Armenia, the man got into an accident, killing the other driver. The man went to jail, his car placed in the care of Martiros Gasparyan. To cover the legal costs for his friend, Martiros sold off, piece by piece, the doors. A mirror. The seats. Every object of value removable from the golden car. When his friend served his time in prison and was released, only the shell remained, today being storage for firewood, resting gently upon the listing grassy lawn of Martiros farm near Gyumri. Everyone, every object, every piece of nature has a story… ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #armenia #gyumri #mercedesbenz #car #automobile #wood #branches #firewood #Dog from the @natgeo story #ghostlands @viiphoto #fromthearchives

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