Natela Grigalashvili, Tbilisi


In the village, we lived by the forest. I didn’t spend a lot of time playing with other children. Immersing myself in films and books, I liked being alone, living in my own world. After leaving school at 16, I arrived in Tbilisi and ever since I’ve lived mostly there, but deep inside, some part of me is still in my small village, in that small world of mine, which I’ve never really left; I feel good there. All the colours, smells, senses come from my childhood – the things that have never vanished or forgotten.

As a child, I was really into cinematography, painting, arts in general. From the very early age, I was obsessed with the idea of becoming a cameraperson, documentary cameraperson. I fancied myself as an author and cameraperson at the same time, wanted to film it all by myself.

After leaving school, I continued my studies in art college although a bit later I became engrossed in photography. I started living alone at the very early age. It was arduous to study, make a living and doing photography at the same time. There were moments when penniless and with no place to live, I had to secretly stay in dormitories at my friends’. So, I had to abandon studies. Eventually, I ended up as a photographer. Back then, I thought everything was disastrous, however, from the present perspective, I understand how wrong I was. Life has given me vast experience which I appreciate a lot now.

My first ever camera was Smena which cost 15 manats, but it was a good one. At first, I didn’t even know how to develop film but have gradually learnt everything. I still keep those films. I believe that losing films/photos makes story interrupt, disappear.

Once having finished studying photography, I took up photojournalist’s job in the press in Dvrita newspaper. There were no female photojournalists back then as photography was regarded as men’s job. Somewhere in photo studios, there were maybe women working as their husbands’ assistants, but female photojournalists simply didn’t exist. It was always a pleasure to me to call myself a photographer really wondering why people would worry about it instead of me. These days it’s different; now women are just as great in photography as men and it makes me really happy.

Apart from supporting myself, I had to provide for my daughter even as married. My marriage couldn’t be called perfect, and for a long time it was because of my daughter I didn’t dare to leave it; with my income poor, the thought of appearing in the street together with her dreaded me even though I had experienced homelessness before.

I made it only years later when I got a job at the ministry of home affairs press office on a fixed salary and my daughter and I started a new life. I became a single mother. Apart from the job, I was supposed to get on with the household all alone. However, I guess all these made me even stronger.
It was then I started working on Mother Tongue project, which lasted for 6 months. The only day off I had was Sunday, and every Sunday I was thinking where to go. I used to leave by the morning and spend all day in a village. During those 6 months, I’ve never missed a Sunday. Sometimes, I would decide where to go right at the station asking people if anything interesting is happening in their village.

I can’t say I didn’t like my job at the ministry, although one day, after years of working there, I just quit. I was afraid it will be hard to make my way, but it wasn’t. I realized that one shouldn’t fear changes. Only now I understand how much time I’ve wasted struggling for survival. We all struggle to earn a living, every day, but you should assign some time for exciting and pleasant things too. I couldn’t afford this. I had neither time nor money to do what I really ached for.

„Countryside photo clubs” project in Javakheti

I came up with the Countryside Photo Clubs idea while working on “Doukhobor Land” project in Gorelovka village. There are hardly any facilities except for public school there. Children and adults work really hard and have nothing to brighten their lives. I guess, I too would’ve been very happy if someone had arrived at my village, give me a camera and teach how to take pictures.

Not only did the project involve kids, but there were also mixed public, people of different ages and nationalities (Georgian, Armenian and Russian as well). The oldest of them was 62-year old Masha still takes photos with a project camera. The good thing was that these people really chummed up and discovered something unusual in their monotonous everyday life which they started to look differently at. They were walking through the village saying “Oh, how beautiful our village turns out to be”. These folk couldn’t even imagine that you might take a photo in your village which somebody will hang on the wall and other people will come to see it. This whole process was fascinating.

When I arrived at Javakheti for the first time, I walked through the village and tried to get close with locals. At first, they didn’t trust me, but as we set about working on the club, fifteen people gathered in our group and the entire village witnessed us walking and photographing around.

Photo sessions were followed by the exhibition in Gorelovka in the village club, where there was also cuisine of different local ethnicities presented together with the screening of a documentary about Doukhobors.

Exhibition in Gorelovka was followed by another one in Tbilisi with all the project participants attending. For some of them, it was their first time in the capital. There were various activities included (visiting presidential palace, trip to the zoo etc.).

One of the girls was accompanied by her 75-year-old grandma Aishe, who sat on bumper cars in the zoo and refused to leave. “I always wanted to learn driving, but they didn’t let me. And now, for so many years, I was given a chance. At last, I have my wish come true” She said to me.

Then, as the project in Gorelovka turned out to be a success, we had an idea to bring the same project in Pankisi. First, we started the club in central villages of Pankisi and later moved to farther ones – Omalo, Khalatsani, Dumasturi.
The first group was comprised mainly of senior students. It turned out that the entire class came to study photography. At first, I thought the girls would be oppressed and discouraged, but soon I found out they were cheerful and unimpeded. I always say I’ve learnt many things from them including attitude to the traditions, respect and politeness. I found that we didn’t have these things anymore. I thought parents would never let these young people come with me, but they did. We’ve traveled throughout the valley. It turned out that many of them had never been in adjacent villages before.

We’d been working a lot. Apart from practice, we also had some theory too. I would show them the works of other photographers and would always give them a task to take photos on a particular topic. I told them to show their daily life – nothing special just their homes, womenfolk gathering and drinking coffee, taking snuff; and how they milk cows, make cheese – the life around, usual to them and new to us. It has never been my intention to train professional photographers, but an idea of providing people living in a monotonous environment with new opportunities and challenges, things that might have been interesting to them. I know how hard it is when you want to learn something and spread your wings and you have no chance of that.

While traveling the villages, I realized what I really wanted from photography – to photograph my village. Because I missed it all the time, my village – the village of Tagveti.

Book of My Mother

Book of My Mother is my recent work. All my life, since I’ve had my camera, I’ve been photographing my mother. Before she didn’t like me to take her photos, however, then she got used to it. I left home at a very young age. There was maybe heartbreak, complicated attitude, disappointment between us, then regrets. Estrangement too. Then I realized I could forget everything, that relationship is about other things. The book is like repentance to me. I also blamed myself in a way and wanted to step towards her with this book. I think I found some inner peace as I started working on it. It’s like making amends for some things, at least for sorrows I’ve been keeping in my heart.

Author: Nino Gamisonia
Photo credit: Nino Baidauri