07/21/2014 09:15 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

To Rebuild A Father-Daughter Relationship, One Photographer Created A New Family Album

Photographer Diana Markosian's parents separated when she was seven years old, her mother leaving her father in Moscow to begin anew in California. From that point on, Markosian and her brother scarcely heard from their father. With no pictures for posterity and no formal goodbye to remember, they even forgot what he looked like.

"Growing up, my father felt like a secret that was being kept from me," the artist wrote for Lens Culture. "My mother shared with me a handful of stories that made me want to know him, touch him, invent him."


Fifteen years later, Markosian decided to reconnect with her phantom parent, traveling to his home in Armenia -- where her family once resided -- to piece together a relationship with a man she hardly knew. The reunion was bittersweet. "For so long I was determined to have a father, so I had invented one out of a man I thought existed," Markosian reiteratd to Lightbox. "But the man standing across from me didn’t recognize me. I didn’t recognize him, either."

To cope with the awkward sensation of meeting a figure who, for so long, has existed only in imagination, Markosian began the aptly named "Inventing My Father," a photographic exploration of her past, present and future living and getting to know her dad. The work has taken place over the past two years, during which Markosian moved in with father, in "the same gray, decaying Soviet building" she once lived in as a young girl.

The series' images mine time, presenting old snapshots of her seven-year-old self and material relics of her once-whole family, as well as contemporary portraits of long lost relatives. There are photos of old swing sets, folded hands, suitcases full of letters and ominous mirrored reflections. In one frame, her father has added text to a simple photo of Markosian mid-snow angel: "I am searching for the little girl in her, the little girl I used to know. The one I was close to. In myself, I am looking for the remains of those feeling I once had for her." In another, a man -- her father -- has been clearly removed, cut out of a family photo by Markosian's mother, leaving a ghostly scene behind.

Disparate and intensely emotional, the various photos present not one person or one family, but a fraught relationship fractured by distance and unavailability. Like a child's collage or the visual spiderweb of an elaborate investigation, "Inventing My Father" doesn't make up for lost time, but attempts to connect one lost era to another.

"I didn't want to be defined by something in my past," Markosian explained to The Huffington Post. "I wanted to meet my father and get to know him for who he was rather than the man my mom made him out to be. This piece has helped fill in gaps, confirm impressions, and offer proof where none existed before."

Inventing My Father

For more many, many more photos in the series, head to Markosian's website here.

Diana Markosian is an alumna of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. She has reported from Russia's North Caucasus region as well as Tajikistan and Afghanistan, and her images have appeared in The New York Times, Foreign Policy and more. Her work is set to go on view at Portland, Oregon's Blue Sky gallery in January of 2015.