Institute News

Hagopian Family Donates Historic Camera to USC Shoah Foundation

From Left: Karen Jungblut, director of research, Antoinette Hagopian, Hrag Yedalian, program administrator of audiovisual collectionsIt was his most prized possession: A movie camera covered in black metal plates, and filled with spinning gears and sprockets. It cost nearly as much as a new car. J Michael Hagopian carried the 44-pound contraption around the world to film nearly 400 testimonies with survivors of the Armenian Genocide.

The treasured relic is now in the possession of the USC Shoah Foundation, which also has the survivor testimonies Hagopian devoted so much of his life to collecting.

It arrived just days after the Armenian Film Foundation presented the testimonies to the Institute in April so many of them can be made available for the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide in 2015. There are plans to put the camera on display at a later time, but until then, it is being kept in a safe location.

Hagopian’s widow, Antoinette Hagopian, dropped off the 16mm Ariflex so it can stay together with the films that were taken with it.

Hagopian died in 2010 just after signing an agreement with the Institute to add his collection into its Visual History Archive. Already transferred from film to preservation-quality JPEG 2000 digital files, the collection will now be catalogued and indexed so it can be fully integrated into the VHA, which contains more than 52,000 testimonies from survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust and other genocides.

The Armenian interviews were recorded between 1972 and 2005, when most survivors were in their 70s and 80s. The survivors and witnesses who make up this rare collection – most now deceased – were interviewed in 10 different languages and were between the ages of 8 and 29 during the genocide. The 400 interviews represent the largest archive of filmed Armenian Genocide interviews in the world.

Antoinette Hagopian said the camera was vital to her late husband’s mission.

“It was used for the bulk of his work,” she said. “It was important to Mike that he be consistent when he did interviews. That’s one reason why he didn’t change to another medium.”

She said she was happy that the camera and the important films taken with it would remain together.

“There were people who wanted it,” she said. “A museum in Boston and several universities expressed an interest, but we just didn’t want to give it up. But this is where it belongs, it really does. It’s as much a part of Mike as anything.”