Saturday, 28 April 2007
A family reunion on this magnificent lake. Perfect weather all week - I slept on a mattress on the beach every night. Catching up with relatives, some of whom I hadn't seen in many years. One morning I woke up early and, with my brother-in-law rowing beside me for safety's sake, swam across the 2.6 km of the lake's width. What a great feeling.
This shot of the lake is simply the result of moving the camera during an exposure of about 1/8 second.
Every summer this large lake holds an enormous Catholic pilgrimage, mostly attended by natives, who come in thousands. There are processions, church services and lake baptisms, and the permanent church there has a wall of crutches discarded after healings. I was there for one of the evenings, and then raced back to another part of the lake as I saw the sunset developing.
Friday, 27 April 2007
The first discovery:
$EXCHANGE$ - all it needs is an extra space after the X to make it perfect
I was seriously into photocopying as an art form for a while in the late 1980s. From bottom to top: first, a copy of one of my portraits, followed by a copied-until-toneless closeup.
Next, putting my own face on the photocopier, moving it while the copy was being made! I actually used this as my artist's photo for an exhibition in about 1989.
Finally, Terry's and my hands on the photocopier; the black spaces cried out for eyes to be added; the whole thing called "Save Me", which I screen printed poster-size in about 1988, in an edition of seven.
Thursday, 26 April 2007
I'm sure it looks much different now, 15 years later.
Arriving by bus at about 4 am with a group from Austria, all we desperately wanted to do was crawl into bed, any kind of bed. But a large meal awaited us, and how could we refuse or even grumble at such humbling hospitality?
One of my fond memories of these stations is the way that people (usually women) in buildings far apart would chat using the PA system, their conversations as public indeed as a postcard, blaring out for all to enjoy.
Held on the site of the original October [Socialist] Revolution of 1917, this fairly extreme demonstration was, as I recall, a portent of the increasing nationalism and anti-non-Russian feeling which have tended to characterise Russia since the USSR broke up.
Daghestan is a mountainous republic on Chechnya's eastern border, a small province with about 40 of the 50 languages of the Caucasus. The name of the ship looks like a pun on the phrase "We are searching".
Wednesday, 25 April 2007
(I'll try to remember in six months to post my Autumn Observation on the same leaves.)
Having been drawn to the USSR by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's shattering trilogy The Gulag Archipelago, a grim documentary of the deadly Soviet prison camp system, it was with very mixed feelings that I visited this prison. Would we be shown the truth, or a hastily assembled improvement, prisoners warned not to tell the truth on pain of death? Likely things were already changing for the better. I certainly hoped so, as I hoped that the Orthodox church at lower right was real.
Although Murmansk is above the Arctic Circle, it is also a city of well over half a million, the largest city this far north in the world. 28 hours by train gets you there from St Petersburg. And because it is so far north, while its winters are sunless for 2 months, its summers have endless sunshine for the same duration. (Emerging from a banya, a Russian sauna, at 1 am one night, I saw the sun high in the sky, obviously not intending to get anywhere near the horizon.)
I broke a rule here, photographing my young subjects squinting into the sun; but I still like the shot.
VDNKh was a huge exhibition ground showcasing all of the USSR. There happened to be a film being shot when I visited it, in front of a fountain representing all of the republics of the Soviet Union.
First day of school, Birsk, Bashkiria, Russia, September 1, 1993
I had not seen this event until holidaying in the Ural mountains, visiting a friend who lives in Birsk. All the children and their parents arrive in their best clothes; there are speeches and flowers. The boy winking makes the shot.
Tuesday, 24 April 2007
We had at last been allowed to drive down to Nodar's home village - the first time I had descended to it instead of driving up. Here, as in Lentekhi, the cloudy weather gave some interest to what were becoming familiar landscapes.
This pair reveal what true Svans look like, Georgian highlanders unmixed with the ancient invaders from Persia or Turkey. I have photographed them on all three visits, but sadly they are now at school in Tbilisi. I hope they will return to the mountains eventually, but more, I hope that they will WANT to, encouraged by improved conditions and a hope and a future.
Here end the Ushguli shots for now - we move on.
What tortures this scene conceals, only hinting at them! For the nettles assailing me were waist-high, the thistles higher still. But the photographer achieved his envisioned picture.
Monday, 23 April 2007
Nodar, his late-teenage children, several local youngsters and I determined to visit the highest watchtower in Europe, Queen Tamar's tower, high above Ushguli. It is part of a ruined fortress complex. Two views from the way up; two from the ruins, looking out and then down over Ushguli; and one of the tower itself, not a typical Svan design.
Some of the fantastically detailed carved wood items which are practically the only thing one can buy at all in the village. Not cheap, but each a masterpiece. The chair, bottom picture, at left, is the traditional seat of the male head of a Svan household.
A black-and-white silent film made in Ushguli in 1929 reveals one of the village's biggest weaknesses, a need which the communists exploited in their hurrahed road-building marathon. Salt for Svanetia, it's called, still available on VHS with simultaneous subtitles in Russian and English. Much worth seeing as an introduction to the village as it was at the dawn of its Soviet period. (The music is a much later addition, but never mind.)
Apparently most of the customs the film depicts were real at the time, though Ushguli has modernized somewhat since then and some of the events depicted were acted out. One thing which hasn't changed at all, however, is the lack of local salt. In the film, cows are showing licking each other's mouths in desperation, and also slurping up just-deposited human urine, all for its salt. These scenes of mine are the current vogue among goats: find an abandoned building, and lick its walls every evening for the precious substance.
Sunday, 22 April 2007
It's a delightful feeling to move past the "hounoured male guest" phase and be allowed to participate in doing something useful. Besides, we were going to be more of a drain on resources than any had ancitipated, waiting for the roadwork.
A cow needs ten stacks of hay to get thrugh the winter. The family owns ten cows, therefore a hundred haystacks. Did I mention that the scythed grass was on the side of a mountain?
Most of us raked the dried grass together in a first step, while the more experienced piled it up into the stacks, a bent sapling trunk running through each one. I was finding it hard to keep my balance on the same horizontal line, but what came next took my breath away. Dato would grasp each sapling as a handle, and RUN straight down the mountain to the road far below, dragging the entire haystack behind him! This can only be summed up on video - still frames simply don't do it justice.
Outdoor lunch, Ushguli, August 2004
A familiar event, but set in what must be one of the most exotic locations in the world.