Portraits of 2011

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 children



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

May protests


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.


IMG_5555A bakery somewhere on the road from Tehran to Chalus.

An Iranian girl by the Caspian Sea.

Meskhetian communities

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.

IMG_2170Rana 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.

pict03Grandfather and granddaughter. Ianeti, Georgia.

pict13Meskhetian students take a break on campus at the Bosphorus University in Istanbul, Turkey.

Salim Khamdiv of Abastumani village. Khamdiv was 14 when the deportation happened.
He managed to return to his native village only after more than sixty years.

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.

ozmeskhs142An elderly Meskhetian couple in the village of Nasakirali, Georgia.


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.

pict14Istanbul. October 2011.

A street (or rather underground) musician in an Istanbul subway station. October 2011

A kiddo with a pomegranate. Istanbul, November 2011.

A street actor. Istanbul, November 2011.

A shoeshiner in Bursa. November 2011

IMG_6465Little buskers in Bursa. November, 2011

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):

pict1657-year-old village potter Remi Kbilashvili and his son pose amongst several of the vessels he recently baked.

A monk tastes wine in Alaverdi monastery winery.

pict1272-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:

IMG_8189Father Maxim on top of the pillar. July 2010.

Father Maxim sitting at the foot of the Katskhi pillar. July 2010

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.

pict06Shepherd Adam Ichirauli looks at the Caucasian shepherd dog puppy
that was just brought to a sheep farm.

A shepherd holding the newly brought puppy.

And the last two…

pict19Grisha Oniani, head of the Stalin Society, in his house. Tbilisi, Georgia. July 2011

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!


2 thoughts on “Portraits of 2011

    • Hi Juha!

      Thank you for your comment! Believe me, it’s very inspiring when somebody from far away sends you their appreciation. And especially from Finland. I actually really hope I’ll manage to visit Finland some time soon, it’s been on my check list of countries to visit for a while now. 🙂

      Anyway, thanks again for liking my photos and for contacting me. Take a good care there.

      P.S. CAOs are really great! Really like them. Most of the time here in Georgia people can’t get a good care of them and it’s hard to see how these smart dogs become aggressive.

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