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Mahtesian Essay
"You travel and see what the camera saw. The wonder of the human mind, heart, wit, and instinct… You might catch yourself saying, 'I'm not a stranger here.'"

John Mahtesian's photography offers a visual poetry of the human condition. It is a direct expression of his warmth, depth of spirit, and humanity. A true gentleman, extremely humble and unfailingly polite, he achieves an invisibility that is the success of his art. His patience and commitment to his vision allow him to capture moments others could not. If his subjects are aware of his presence, his gentle nature so enchants them that they are unguarded and their essence is revealed. So compelling are his images that we are truly convinced his insights are our own. They make us rejoice in the world around us, and in the nature of human existence.

Mahtesian's compassionate understanding of the human condition began early as the youngest child of Armenian immigrants who settled in Chicago's south side. Born in 1915, John's life was filled with all things Armenian. His parents spoke little English and their attachment to Armenia — the newspaper they read and the stories they told — spurred in him longings to see their beloved homeland and to venture beyond his Chicago neighborhood. Ever attentive to the caring of his parents, John's desire to experience and capture the wonders of other peoples and places unfolded slowly and gently.

It wasn't until 1974 that fate opened the door for him to go to Armenia — a trip he had been preparing for his entire life. The events leading to this lifelong aspiration are a testament to his hard work, loyalty, and a belief in steadily pursuing his dreams. That first trip to his ancestral homeland began a personal photographic project that included nine visits over a period of fifteen years. The many images he captured of markets, churches, artists, and people attending to their daily lives, gave reality to the stories he heard from his parents and fulfilled an unspoken commitment to his family legacy.

As most people who have lived a long while, John Mahtesian can look with amazement on the events of his life and the twists and turns that have shaped his journey. Although he began his commitment to learning and creating art in his early twenties, he didn't start taking photographs in a serious way until the age of 40. Forty years later he published his first book of photographs entitled, Journeys. Looking at this collection, it is apparent that his eye for composition is unerring. He looks for the hidden designs in everyday life — the unposed human interactions. It is clear that Mahtesian has a profound sensitivity to his fellow man and values his human relationships deeply. The soul of a site as revealed by its native artists and laborers is the grail that he seeks.

(This statement is an edited compilation from the writings of John Mahtesian, Suzanne Folds McCullagh, and Lyn DelliQuadri as prefaced in Mahtesian's book Journeys.)

John Mahtesian
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