Dear 2011! Thank you very much! You were such an awesome year to me. I’m sorry that I didn’t trust you in your beginning, but thankfuly you’ve turned out to be so good despite my suspicion. Finally, I had a job that required traveling, so much of it that I even got sick of planes and hotels. Finally, I had an opportunity to work on and finish a big chunk of a long-term project and have the first ever personal exhibition. You have showed me how to be attentive to people’s faces and gestures. You showed me a little how to tell stories through the portraits. You’ve been good to me both in professional and personal departments. Thank you for teaching me how to be happy and for giving me an opportunity to be such.
To show you my appreciation, take these portraits as a gift from me, in order to see through people who’ve lived through you, how beautiful and vivid you were.
Thank you once more. Спасибо. მადლობა. متشکرم. Teşekkür ederim.
Gold panning in Svaneti. January.
65-year-old Rezo “Mackenna” Gurchiani during the gold panning process on the Inguri River, Svaneti, Georgia. Gurchiani, who got his nickname after the Gregory Peck character, Marshall Mackenna, who, in the 1969 adventure flic “Mackenna’s Gold,” dedicated his life to pursuing a hopeless dream of gold.
The local addiction to gold prospecting in Svaneti is connected to the Inguri River. To Svans, this mighty river, which courses through western Georgia and into the breakaway territory of Abkhazia, is a liquid gold highway. Panning the gold in the Inguri River is no fun and rather risky: in the middle of the winter gold prospectors spend weeks in ice-cold water, despite the risk of avalanches, the frequent danger in Svan mountains. The revenue is just minor. However, old Svans are loyal to the tradition, and their own ardour. As Gurchiani put it: “gold panning has become like a sport to me. It’s as exciting as hunting or fishing.” See the full story here.
School in Ieli, Svaneti. January.
A girl looks out of the broken window of her classroom in the village school in Ieli, Svaneti, Georgia. After their old school was burnt to the ground by an accidental fire, for two years Ieli high school students had to attend classes in a private abandoned house with broken windows and sometimes only one desk per classroom.
Roma girl in a Tbilisi Roma community. April, 2011
Roma girl at the cemetery during the celebration of the remembrance of the dead by local Roma community.
Leninivka village, Georga. May, 2011
I usually try not to photograph (and then post) anything political. But in this year of protests I didn’t manage to escape it. This photo was taken during the May 26 protest rallies later severely dispersed by the special forces. The boy is holding a banner saying “Misha will go!” Misha is, obviously, Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili.
I could talk of Meskhetian project forever. But since I think I’ve already talked a lot about it during this year, I’ll just post a few portraits I took during my trips to Meskhetian communities in different countries.
Rana Rajabova, a 24-year-old bride in the Azerbaijani village of Shirinbeili.
Rana’s grandparents, natives of Arali village in Georgia’s Adigeni region, were deported to Uzbekistan.
Before the deportation they were told by the soldiers that they would return in 7 days, so no belongings
should be taken. Her grandmother hid her golden decorations at home with the hope of returning after a week.
Kizhanim Karipova, the widow of Kaptan Karipov, who was killed
during the 2010 pogroms in the village of Maevka, Kyrgyzstan, in front of her house.
People say that Meskhetians and other minorities were intentionally targeted in Maevka.
Some people claimed that houses with Russian inhabitants were marked with the word “Russians” and were not touched.
“First Ferghana, now here. Since my husband died, it doesn’t matter to me anymore, but I’m afraid for
my children. Nobody knows when it could happen again,” Karipova said.
It happened so that most of my journeys were in Turkey, to Istanbul and Bursa. As opposed to Istanbul, which I call the supermarket city, I liked Bursa. Amazingly, the latter didn’t impact me as a big city, even though the population is close to 2 million. I should say Tbilisi is much noisier, being the same size.
Georgian traditional wine making
Last September I worked on a story about the traditional Georgian way of making wine: using qvevri, big clay amphorae dug neck-deep into the ground, to ferment the wine. Here’s what I’ve got out of it (the full story is here):
72-year-old Moseh Bachiashvili, who has worked in vineyards for most of his life,
stands on the truck to receive buckets full of grapes during the grape harvest in Georgian region of Kakheti.
Despite his age and partial hearing disability, he continues harvesting grape every year and doesn’t hesitate to climb on the truck.
Kakheti is the main wine producing region in Georgia, and the annual grape harvest is a centuries-old tradition.
The last stylite
Of course I couldn’t leave him from this list. It’s been more than a year that The Stylite – a Matter of Faith project has started, but it was only last September that Steve Riehl, my friend and an excellent film director, managed to come to Georgia for the research trip.
The story will describe a Georgian monk, who decided to become a hermit on top of a 40-meter-tall rock pillar, just like his predecessors (called stylites) did centuries ago. But new time dictates new rules, and nowadays it seems that in order to become a hermit it is not enough to just climb any pillar you like.
Here are a couple of previously unpublished portraits of the main protagonist, father Maxim:
Caucasian shepherd dog puppies in Vashlovani
Last December, six puppies were distributed to three different farms in Vashlovani National Park, Georgia. They are to be brought up there according to proper regulations, in order to become good shepherd dogs, minimize wolf attacks and thus to mitigate the human-nature conflict on the territory of the park. The puppies were given to shepherds as a gift by Georgian biodiversity conservation organization NACRES within the Carnivore Conservation Project. NACRES will monitor the process of bringing up the puppies.
And the last two…
Svan peasants with a pair of oxen pulling a bundle of firewood pass a new bridge in Mestia, Svaneti.
The bridge, as well as many other new constructions in Mestia are designed by the same German architect,
who, as locals say, is “[Saakashvili’s] friend.”
This is it. Have a Happy New Year and a great 2012!