I have known Suren Manvelyan for more than 10 years. When I first met him, I was a graphic designer who was fascinated by photography and he was a physics teacher at school who was looking for opportunities to grow as a photographer. We used to gather with our small Armenian photographer’s community each Friday to share experiences, discuss photography, and develop our skills. Years passed, a lot of the enthusiasts gave up and only a few stayed faithful to their art. Suren, on his behalf, not only grew to a professional photographer, but also didn’t give up on his other interests. He is one of those people you would meet in the books or movies, the ones who crave for knowledge and growth in many directions.
A renaissance human is an ideal for me — someone like Leonardo da Vinci.
We met with Suren at his beloved place in the city called Natura Gold to enjoy Pu'er: the 30-year-old fermented and aged tea they serve there. He warned it smelled awful, but I, playing a brave one, agreed to try. To his surprise I had some four cups of it for the sake to take the full interview and promised to try a worse version of it for the next meeting.
When back in 2006 Suren applied to a local renowned magazine for a photography job, they suggested that he come back with a project as a body of work. He took this as a great opportunity to demonstrate his skills. He came back a year later with a completed project he did at school — taking portraits of kids in renaissance style. This basically opened the doors for Manvelyan in the industry, and he quickly became one of the two lead photographers for the production. The position allowed him to select his own gear and experiment in a vast majority of genres while being fully equipped with necessary gear.
Physics and Astrophotography
Suren dreamt of becoming an astronaut as a child. This is a vivid dream when you live in a place, where it is more or less possible, but not in Armenia for the period of time he was born. Instead of becoming an astronaut, Manvelyan holds a PhD and a Presidential Award in physics. The deep knowledge in this sphere allows him to come closer to the space with his astrophotography, a comfortable genre to work in.
Thankfully Armenia has mesmerizing landscapes and within an hour of drive from the city it is always possible to capture beautiful nightscapes.
Being a flexible person, Suren never misses an opportunity to travel and always takes the camera with him, be it a personal trip or a physic’s conference. This creates the wide variety of landscapes in his portfolio.
He kindly shared a trick to predict sunset worthy of shooting before it starts:
If the weather is not stable and changes many times during the day, most [likely] there will be a very beautiful sunset.
Music and Teaching
Suren was a school teacher when I met him more than 10 years ago and is still a teacher at the same school when I met him this afternoon.
I enjoy the break teaching at school gives me; kids are just kids and you are yourself, which is something vital for me. Having more than one profession is essential.
Manvelyan has also studied at musical school for over seven years and plays on five musical instruments: the guitar, cello, lyre, piano, and block flute. When photography was not a business yet, he used to give lessons for the first three instruments listed for eight years.
When I started talking about macro photography, Suren’s eyes sparkled, and as I predicted he confessed that it is among his favorite genres to work in.
With macro photography you can see things otherwise you wouldn’t be able to see with your own eyes, the whole world is there to explore, you can go to your backyard and get endless macro adventures.
Suren is fascinated by this micro world full of colors, textures, and relief. This is a space he can explore anytime and anywhere and fulfill his hunger of creativity. There is no surprise that his most famous and successful project named "Your Beautiful Eyes" belongs to this genre and has won attention of millions people around the world.
Your Beautiful Eyes
Being a person who works in a wide variety of genres, Suren posted an extreme eye macro project named "Your Beautiful Eyes" showcasing the diversity of the eye structure, relief, and color on his Behance portfolio back in 2010. It gained some 300 likes and Suren forgot about the portfolio on the platform doing his everyday tasks only to come back three months later to find out the project was getting 100,000-150,000 views each day. Very shortly it reached over 4 million views and became one of the most popular and viewed projects of all time on Behance.
I had no special intention when taking the pictures and was very surprised how far it went.
The project became super popular and gained worldwide recognition. The pictures were published all around the world by National Geographic, Yahoo!, Die Zeit, The Sun, Daily Mail, The Independent, Telegraph, La Republica, Liberation, Guardian, Wired, Huffington Post, Wedemain, The Shortlist, DT Magazine, MAXIM, and many others. The photos were also used by BBC Spain, BBC Brasil, WNYC, Gizmondo, and more.
As time was going by there was a need to do something more. This time Suren decided to take pictures of animal eyes. For this he had to make his setup more advanced and portable. With a human eye you can ask the person to stay still but it is a totally another story with animals. Suren has to get special permissions to get close to all kind of creatures and also have someone to hold the animals still for at least couple of seconds. This challenge has made him a master of this series and as he says:
I can take a picture of the eye even in complete darkness now.
Animal eyes were also used in Luc Besson’s "Lucy" movie as well as its trailer (jump to 41 seconds).
At the moment, Suren is mostly busy photographing weddings, where he sometimes mixes astro/landscape photography. He is fascinated by animal eyes and hopes to get funding to travel the world and take macro photographs of different species eyes from the corners of the world. This might take some time, but eventually it might turn into a two volume book to enrich the coffee tables of many people.
Manvelyan doesn’t open his secret how he is able to get this incredible outcome and has a rule of never shooting an eye of a photographer. Hopefully one day I will manage to get a shot of my eye by taking a challenge of drinking the worst teas on the planet. For now I can only watch and get an immense pleasure from the wide diversity of the eyes on our planet.
Images used with permission of Suren Manvelyan.