When he arrived in Canada at the age of seven, Harruthoonyan didn't speak a word of English. "I remember needing to go to the bathroom, and getting up in school and realizing I didn't know the words I needed in order to get there," he laughs.
His lack of language pushed him to reach beyond words, and into nature to make sense of his place in the world.
"I needed to find ways of looking at the world that had more gentleness to them,"he remembers. "I found that in nature. I liked to think about how memories are malleable, like waves, depending on what kind of current pushed them forward or pulled them back."Or how two blackberries on the same branch can take in different facets of their environment, making one sweeter than the other."
Today, he replicates this process through analog prints that interrupt the common visual narratives viewers might look for in his work.
He begins with finding what he can take away from an image, noting that the act of removing integral pieces of an image encourages viewers to focus on atmosphere, space and feeling - much like removing language from a child's exploration of the world. Afterward, unique combinations of shapes and negative space encourage the brain to shift its usual process of interpreting an image. Finally, replacing defining characteristics of a subject with something unexpected encourages the viewer to reach for new narratives.
Harruthoonyan applies the same research principles he learned while studying biology into developing his photographs. A negative, he insists, should be deconstructed and studied the same way a scientist might dissect a frog to learn the mechanics of its motion through water.
Working exclusively in a traditional wet darkroom, Harruthoonyan uses his own, home made chemistry and various, unexpected tools (think dental pick probes), to lift emulsion, sculpt, collage, layer and manipulate his negatives. The final works are printed by Osheen on fibre-based gelatin silver paper in a traditional wet darkroom.
Harruthoonyan's willingness to take risks within the confines of the traditional photographic process makes this representational capacity possible. Altering each negative by hand, his works crystallize midway between the calculable and the spontaneous, addressing both the systematic and the chaotic.
Each print is then hand toned with sepia, gold and selenium to create permanent prints that, in their own way, are a reminder of the fleeting nature of the very journeys they challenge us to reconsider. His pieces, Harruthoonyan comments, will last long beyond the life cycles of their subjects.