Diana Markosian: A father cut out of a family album

At the age of seven, Magnum photographer Diana Markosian was taken to California by her mother, without saying goodbye to her father. Nearly two decades later, she travelled to Armenia in search of him.

“My father would disappear for months at a time. Then, unexpectedly, he would come home. Until, one day, it was our turn to leave. The year was 1996. My mother woke me up and told me to pack my belongings. She said we were going on a trip, and the next morning we arrived in our new home, in California. We never said goodbye to my father.”

Video

Click on the play button above the story to watch the video.

Magnum photographer Diana Markosian documented her childhood in the 2013-2014 project Inventing my Father. It was a personal exploration – going to Armenia to visit the father she’d left behind almost 20 years earlier, when she was seven.

“I learnt that my mum put an ad in the Los Angeles paper that she was a young woman from Moscow and she wanted to see America. Dozens and dozens of men responded, and she picked this one man from the town of Santa Barbara,” Markosian tells BBC Culture.

“My mum woke me up one morning and said ‘we’re going on a trip’. I remember flying forever, and finally landing, and we were in California, and this man met my mum… I never thought we wouldn’t see my dad again.”

In the second of our new Through the Lens series, Markosian describes travelling with her brother to find their father two decades later, and seeing a suitcase her grandfather had filled with returned letters he’d sent to the US trying to find them – as well as a notice in a newspaper asking for information about his ‘missing grandchildren’.

“Not everything was one story; one truth,” she says. “When you have two parents, it’s the basic, isn’t it? And when you’re not given that, you’re always trying to find a way to make up for it.”

If you would like to comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Culture, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.

And if you liked this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter, called “If You Only Read 6 Things This Week”. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Culture, Capital and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.