Children of Georgia’s mountains explore the marvel of traditional lifestyle through photography

Viewing one’s environment through the lens of a camera can make us re-examin what we already know and reveal the magic that’s hidden in the ordinary.

Children in remote villages of Upper Svaneti, a mountain area in Georgia, set out to explore the local community of ethnic Svan people. Their stories and photographs captured an intimate portrayal of a world in transition.

The school children follow the instructing attentively.

When the Georgian and Spanish photographers Tamara Bokuchava and Rosa Vroom met schoolchildren in the mountain villages in Upper Svaneti in Georgia’s northwest, they were impressed by the enthusiasm and interest they took in learning.

Invited by local communities of the ethnic group of Svans, Rosa and Tamara came to the Upper Svaneti region to teach Svan children reflect on their cultural identity and natural environment through photographs and short stories. What came out of the series of workshops is kids’ inside-out look at the traditional world of Svans in transition. The results are available at the website wearesvaneti.org.

School children testing their photography skills.
“We handed out simple cameras, introduced the kids to the basics of photography and set them off on their first mission. In no time, they came back with astonishingly beautiful pictures and touching stories.
They documented the places of their childhood and the lifestyles of their close relatives that are usually hidden from strangers.”
Tamara Bokuchava

We are Svaneti contains a collection of over a dozen photo-stories produced by children from the villages of Chuberi, Nakra and Khaishi. The photo essays (see one at the end of this story) recollect for instance the joyful moments on a rainy day at school, the devotion of the community pharmacist or the hardship of internally displaced Svans from Abkhazia.

“The children created intimate photo portrayals of their families and honored the elderly people and the respected community leaders. They also provided a peek into the natural beauty of the mountain valleys. They were so loving and proud of their home. They invited us to explore the scenery first hand and walked us up to the mountain top to admire the Caucasus panorama.”
Rosa Vroom
The beautiful mountains in Upper Svaneti, Georgia

The photo-story project was initiated in a collaboration of local school teachers and a group of environmental organizations that strive to protect the Svan cultural heritage and the local nature. These are seen as under threat by the effects of globalization and the development of large-scale energy projects, in particular hydropower plants.

“We hope that by assisting children to explore personal and traditional values, we will contribute to preserving the Svan cultural patrimony. We also want to give children self-confidence to become change agents in their communities.”
Magdalena Kircheva, coordinator of the We are Svaneti project.

While the organisers of the art project are looking forward to new stories from the children, a video feature shot by Rosa Vroom has been released that documents testimonies of the Svan communities that are challenging the Nenskra dam, one of several hydropower projects planned in the region. The video explores the many ways in which the project would destroy the fragile cultural fabric that the art project is aiming to document.


Grandmother

written by: Irakli Aprasidze

“When I entered school and learned to count, I never imagined that a digit 0 would be my life companion.

I felt so sorry for my ill mother. Because of my mother’s health problems I left school at the 6th grade. I was 20 years old when I was forced to marry. I left with my husband for the Kodori Gorge. I started my life from 0. I took care of cattle.

Later, for the sake of the children we chose to move to Abkhazia. I started my life from 0 again. I made cheese and sold it at the local market. I also trained my neighbors in cheese making.

Then the most difficult period of my life started with the Abkhazian civil war. I faced the hardest living conditions as a refugee. Here again, my life companion 0 came back to me. I returned to my native Chuberi and started life from 0 again.

Regardless of so many 0s in my life, I have 5 children and 12 grandchildren.”