Photographer Alex Nazari explores Armenian history through its ubiquitous Soviet-era car, the Lada

Documenting “intimate and introspective” moments, the LA-based photographer unpacks the lasting effects of Soviet rule on the nation.

26 October 2022

Cultural artefacts come in many shapes and sizes, from furniture to statues to pieces of clothing. For photographer Alex Nazari, the significant cultural artefact that inspired his recent series took the form of a car. Specifically, the Lada, a Russian-made, Soviet-era automobile defined by its boxy shape and utilitarian design.

Alex first encountered a Lada when visiting Yerevan in Armenia in 2017. The child of Armenian-American immigrants, Alex’s visit was the first time a member of his family had returned to their homeland since their ancestors fled from genocide during WWI. “After WWI, Armenia was taken under Soviet rule until the 90s,” Alex explains. “The effects of cultural suppression and tumultuous wars in the region were evident upon arrival and I understood these new surroundings would inform my work in a very different way.”

Upon landing in Yerevan, Alex’s first impressions were ones of “fascination”. He continues: “regardless of the endless strife, it was an incredible place – in a way that has never been discussed or shown.” It was when he began to travel the city that he noticed how recurrent the Lada car really was. “Unfamiliar to anyone who isn’t from a Soviet state, I was enamoured by its significance to the society,” Alex says.


Alex Nazari: Lada (Copyright © Alex Nazari, 2022)

Having set out to document how the near 70-year Soviet rule had affected Armenian culture, Alex decided that using the Lada would be both a subtle and powerful way to do so. Alex was also intent on maintaining a single aesthetic approach, which he managed through his use of medium-format film. “I was just led by my curiosity and tried to explain this world through my eyes, hoping to show the human experience in an unexpected and honest way,” he says. “I was looking forward to making work that did not feel restricted and suffocated by modern photographic technology nor would make an inaccurate projection of Armenia and its people.”

The first image Alex took in the series is one that still resonates with him, for both its geographical significance and the way it informed the rest of the project. In the image, a weather-beaten Lada peppered with bullet holes sits below two Armenian flags. The car was parked on the Armenian-Azerbaijan border, in the Nagorno-Karabakh territory. “Parked at the border between two ex-Soviet countries, in the exact region of disputed land and endless conflict since the fall of the Soviet Union. The symbolism was almost poetic,” says Alex. Another image that has particularly remained with him shows a group of elderly women selling fruit out of the boot of the car. Images like these bring the human essence to the series, the vehicle a natural component in acts of the everyday. “It was fascinating to witness so many different people from so many walks of life still dependent on this automobile,” Alex says.

Primarily, Alex wants the series to instigate conversation. It’s his wish that many ex-Soviet countries begin to realise how similar their experiences have been, and how similar that makes them. “Thirty years later, most left with a turbulent post-Soviet experience of political and economic turmoil, a destabilised region, and still dependent and at the mercy of the Soviet power, the hopes and expectations of these ex-Soviet states have failed to materialise,” Alex says. “Maybe war with our neighbours isn’t the right answer.” Finally, the project is also one that has been particularly moving for Alex, helping him to grapple with and understand his family’s rich, yet complicated legacy. “As a son of immigrants,” he says, “reclaiming ownership of the narrative and representation feels particularly powerful and important.”

GalleryAlex Nazari: Lada (Copyright © Alex Nazari, 2022)

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Alex Nazari: Lada (Copyright © Alex Nazari, 2022)

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About the Author

Olivia Hingley

Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.

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