Live Flesh

A friend of mine once told me a story: in the days of his studentship, for whatever reason, he really wanted to visit а morgue (well, we all have something we could be called weirdos for). Being an engineering major himself, organizing such a trip did not seem an easy task for him. Finally he managed to find some students from the medical department, who offered him to join them during a group practice. When the students entered the mortuary, they were nearly knocked out by strong smell of formalin. The following scene they observed was not too helpful for their stomachs: next to a freshly dissected body a group of people in what was supposed to be white robes were having lunch, chasing home-made sandwiches with shots of vodka. Neither my friend, nor his stomach are sissy, but for the first time in their lives the latter felt rather uncomfortable. The group of future bad-ass doctors, and my friend among them, stamped hesitantly by the door, as the dissectors warmly invited them to the “table.”

A cattle market near Marneuli, Georgia. 2012

However, my friend continued, amazingly, it didn’t take even 20 minutes for them to join the party. As much as the sight and the smell were revolting in the beginning, they got used to it rather quickly, and soon were proposing toasts themselves, nicking sausages from dissectors’ sandwiches, next to the open body.

Getting out of one’s comfort zone is a inseparable part of being a photographer. A couple of years ago I attended a pagan festival in Svaneti, a Georgian mountain region. As a part of the festival, each family slaughtered a pig. Remembering Robert Capa’s words about the importance of being close to the subject, I got my camera right next to the pigs’ throat, as four guys around readied the knife to slit it.

Slaughtering a pig in Svaneti, Georgia. 2010

No need to say that the object of oblation was squealing its head off, even after its throat was slit open. The fountain of blood reached my camera leaving a few greasy drops on my lens. I backed off feeling rather nauseated. That moment I remembered how in my childhood my dad and uncle brought a sheep to our garden and slaughtered it. Back then the smell coming from its guts made me really sick. Later, when I was twelve, I had to behead a chicken for the dinner table myself, because at that moment there was nobody home capable of doing this. By the age of 16 I beheaded or killed different small animals for the dinner table. However, since that age I never did it again, relying mostly on the supermarket products. So, feeling nauseated on that day two years ago crouched next to the squealing pig, I thought that for sure I am a spoiled city person. However, after 10-15 minutes, my nausea suddenly disappeared, and I took photos of the next few sacrificial animals without feeling too bad about them.

A cattle market near Marneuli, Georgia. 2012

A cattle market near Marneuli, Georgia. 2012

The reason I am writing all this is that frequently it looks rather unrealistic that our mind will ever change the way it functions. Living in a certain environment we perceive people, who live in other parts of the world and do things that are unusual for us as freaks. But isn’t it amazing, how quickly we adapt to the different environment if placed there? Following the earlier anecdote, the question would be: if many of us get nauseated from the view of a slaughtered animal, do we become a little less inhumane when we get used to it?

But as civilized as we are, we all like freak shows. That’s why many journalists, photographers and videographers travel far, sometimes for thousands of kilometers, to take photos of bloody rituals and exotic dances. In a way they become just like the war pictures, like anything else that is different from our life routine and what keeps us entertained. So, maybe somewhere, in another time or place, where war has already become the norm of life, a cheesy photo of a family picnic would sell the best. Because it’s different.

A shepherd skinning the sheep. Shiraqi plateau, Georgia, 2012


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