Top: World's first 360-degree Panorama of Ushguli, Svaneti, Georgia, Feb 24/2009, from 12 separate photos...

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Ushguli, August 2007

A couple of views from the village's main museum windows. Generally one is not allowed to photograph inside, but such angles are permitted.

At the bottom of the top frame is Ushguli school again.

National Manuscript Centre, Tbilisi, September 2007

(For the next while my photographs will be from both this location and Svaneti, one or several of each daily. Today - something from K'ala, Svaneti, 11th Century, written in the original of Georgia's three alphabets.)

Into a cold, rather dark room, pleasant change from the 35-degree heat of Tbilisi in late summer. Row upon row of metal shelves containing treasures of literature in many different languages. I had stumbled across the National Manuscript Centre (see ) helping a new friend from the USA who was working on his doctoral thesis in connection with early Georgian printing. But here were hundreds of books almost all written by hand.

The centre's director, as it turns out, is an avid photographer like me. He was ready with postcard gifts based on his work, and is a good PR man for the Centre as well. His current idea is an exhibition of photographs from the Centre's archives - and I was the first foreigner he invited to participate.

My setup was extremely simple: tripod, no flash - God forbid any extra light on these ancient, delicately magnificent pages of text and illumination! Either a simple 50mm standard lens, or this with a macro-focusing 2x converter added to the camera body. I was shooting quite close most of the time, zeroing in on small details of script, art or binding. There was much to choose from, brought to me either by my request ("Er, do you have anything from Svaneti?" "12th century, K'ala village...") or their expert choice ("Mongolian, we don't actually know how old it is... Amharic from Ethiopia - well-preserved for a 10th-century book, don't you think?"). Dazzled, I spent two days there, and in the end covered these languages plus Armenian (one selection was written on a grape leaf), Hebrew, Gothic (not just the alphabet but the long-dead language), Latin, Slavonic, Persian, Turkish, and Arabic (the most beautiful book I have ever seen, a hand-painted Quran resembling a miniature carpet). I touched nothing: the archive worker's gloved hands brought, opened, arranged on a piece of white paper which I was able to turn to my liking.

Whe photographing art, a useful control to have along is a colour bar - a strip of paper on which are printed, as permanently as posible, a set of standard printing colours and shades of grey. You place this next to the art and photograph them together, then compare the output - whether instant digital photo or scan - with the original colour bar, to ensure that tones and colours are reproduced accurately. I hadn't even thought to take a colour bar with me, but even if I had, it might have proved a real challenge to use in the tight closeups I was shooting. Nonetheless, several control shots with such a thing in the tungsten lighting, showing up a strong yellow colour cast on film, would have proved useful. As it is I've had to gradually build towards correct colours in my scanned shots on the computer, putting them aside and returning to them in stages. Many of the pages were somewhat yellowed with age - how much of my yellow cast was tungsten light, and how much was old paper? Gold book covers or gold leaf on the pages of the painted Quran must come across clearly as shiny metallic gold. Gently, gently, step by step towards a realistic presentation. Keep all photographs in a set from the same manuscript in the same colour range. Return later to the Centre to consult with its staff on final colour adjustments.

A good assignment for a photographer who is also a serious lover of books. Here is a selection from the scanned work. Exhibition details in Tbilisi to be announced...

Ushguli, July 2007 (top to bottom)

The videos from the Svaneti walk are over... but I still have many more clips from later trips and other locations. Here are three to begin a new series from the crazy trip of July '07 - 3 vanloads of Georgians and I, 27 hours instead of 14 to reach Ushguli, a week staying there, a couple of TV interviews.

Top - our 240-litre wine barrel being unloaded in Ushguli. It took 2 hours in Zestaponi en route to arrange the acquisition of this little gem. Couldn't be bought before we left Tbilisi! Oh no!

Bottom 2 - a new friend helps out an elderly local lady with the hay.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Ushguli, August 2007

For such a small village (c. 50 familes or 200 people), Ushguli sure has a lot to offer as far as views go. Changing weather and light add to the variety, as with everywhere. Learning to SEE the differences is key. This comes with thousands of frames, with many reshoots until one gets the desired result. Another, unexpected result (at least for me) is that one's eye becomes the camera, always seeking the image wherever one looks.

The bottom shot is an offering left outside one of the village's 8 churches.

Svaneti, er, hobble, June 2007 (top to bottom)

Meanwhile, back on the ranch. Jeff having his foot blisters dealt with at last, by the best: Valya, Nodar's cousin and the medicine woman of Etseri. Grin and bear it, buddy. I had my own owwies to contend with, on my thighs (I wasn't about to display 'em), from riding the wretched horse home 2 1/2 hours. We rested a full day here, then took the marshroutka (public minivan) home to Tbilisi. The walk was over after 2 1/2 weeks. A great time was had by all. Many lessons were learned to apply to the next attempt, likely to be summer 2008.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Ushguli, August 2007

Bottom: One of the village's churches.
Middle: The school where I plan to teach English this winter, starting in early November if my Georgian visa comes through.
Top: Lamaria Church and Mt Shkhara at the top of the village. Every day new weather, new light to show off the familiar in new ways.

Svaneti Walk, June 2007 (top to bottom)

Top clip - panorama of the campsite.

Middle - a rare appearance by the usual cameraman, filmed by the usual actor. My reply to Jeff is something about "Rice and chicken"; then I ask him if he has ever had rice cooked on a fire before.

Bottom - the beautiful little spring-fed pond where I took some photos of Ushba peeking over the forest and gathered water in the idyll, unaware that back at the campsite Jeff was being given the run-around by the recently-escaped Nightmare. Thank Heavens he managed to hobble after her and grab her by the stirrup, then wait for me to return, or we might have lost her for the rest of the walk and been stranded.

There are only 2 more videos from the June Svaneti walk, both back in Etseri, our starting point. Between these clips of today and those 2, we: settled with the crazy horse; began walking towards Mestia; put Jeff on the horse on top of all the baggage as his blisters had finally got the better of him (his added weight didn't slow her down in the slightest); upon reaching Mestia, put Jeff and all the baggage into a car for Etseri, while I rode the Nightmare there. It only took me 2 1/2 hours, with some galloping and some rain and some more final craziness from the beast.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Ipari to K'ala, August 2007

The beautiful carved wooden cross at the pass near Ipari again; and a couple more views of Ushba from near K'ala.

Svaneti Walk, June 2007 (top to bottom)

Top: The glue didn't hold, so Jeff had to switch to his walking sandals. Although he'd done considerable walking in these to break them in, he had some minor blisters already, which they made worse. This was the begining of the end of the walk, though we didn't realise it at the time.

Bottom: Breaking a cardinal rule of camping during our one overnight in a tent: Don't eat in the tent! (It attracts big critters to the smells. But bears and such are much shyer here than in North America; and the rain made it feel like a risk worth taking.)

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Mestia, August 2007

A morning walk to overlook the town.

Usually Ushba's awesome size has its own scale, fitting its surroundings. But I find that from this angle, with Mestia below, it seems to be peering over the top of the mountains in front of it, altering dimensions in a way which makes me feel that both the rest of the landscape and I are very, very small indeed. Rather a numinous sensation, if I may say so.

Svaneti Walk, June 2007 (top to bottom)

Top clip - inside the top of the Ratiani family's unique "Twin Towers", Ushguli, with Anzor showing Jeff & me around. I'd love to have these cleaned out, the roof repaired and tours run up them.

Next 2 - at the Tamar's Fortress complex overlooking Ushguli, including the highest watchtower in Europe (unless someone can demostrate otherwise). Apologies for the poor sound quality. As for the darkness of the bottom clip - dusk was falling as we began our descent, but we'd known that this would happen and were ready with flashlights. (Jeff, are you enjoying this series of flashbacks?)

Monday, 1 October 2007

Mestia, August 2007

The only time I have travelled all the way to Ushguli twice in one month. Both times I was acting as a tour guide for foreign friends. Here, some more views of Svaneti's capital town with its many towers nestled among the mountains. Such a splendid place.

Svaneti Walk, June 2007 (top to bottom)

Above Ushguli.

Top clip: crossing another stream as we walk towards the Shkhara Glacier. It was as cold as the histrionics indicate.

Bottom clip: another look at the unbelievable amount of snow remaining in June.

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Retro Graphics Day 3...

All printing stages of my favourite 6-colour hand-screen-printed baseball cap crest; from my days with Solid Rock Signs, the screen printing company where I worked from 1985-89. George often gave me highly detailed artwork like this piece, for a wild game farm. (The little crosses in bottom left and top right corners are registration marks, which I printed to help me line up the 6 colours of ink. After printing, the crest would be cut out with scissors and its edge stitched with a surging machine; then it would be attached to a baseball cap with hot glue from a glue gun.)
It was a joy as well as a challenge for me to print many hundreds of copies from such original designs. I owe you guys so much for all that you taught me there, about work (my first full-time job) and about many other important things.

Svaneti Walk, June 2007 (top to bottom)

In and around Ushguli.

Top: a view from the way up to the summit of Mt Lamaria. I did this solo the day after Jeff and I arrived in Ushguli - for some reason I still had considerable energy. It was a lovely clear day for landscape photos. From the summit I made my first 360-degree photographic panorama ever, in 17 hand-held shots. I also took a video panorama on the cellphone, but annoyingly, only the first few seconds of it have picture, though the wind-swept microhone sounds persist throughout the clip... so all I have on video from that walk is this clip from part-way up. It'll do.

Middle: how much is that goatie in the window? 'Cause we'd sure like to buy it and send it far away from OUR window. Its bleating was much more frequent than the inexplicable shyness of this short clip suggests.

Bottom: footage from a detour walk Jeff and I made towards Mt Shkhara and its glaciers. This much snow persists until June... indeed, some of it was still left fully 2 months later, when I repeated this walk with other friends. Astounding.