In Conversation With:

MANO SVANIDZE

Interviewed by Hannah Green

You had an interesting route into photography - could you tell us a little bit about the path from your first interest in visual media to your degree to where you are today?


My interest in photography has deep roots in my childhood. After Georgia declared its independence from the Soviet Union, wars broke out in different regions of the country. As a result of the Abkhazian and South Ossetian conflicts, thousands of people had to leave everything behind and ended up (internally) displaced. My grandmother was one of those who had to leave. All she managed to take with her were a few photos, which were to become regarded as very precious, almost sacred things by my family. She was often asked why she took photos and not, for example, her jewelery; after all, these could be more useful in a war situation. The silence that would follow this question never failed to make a big impression on me. Growing up, I have always felt attracted to art, and I have engaged in numerous disciplines in an attempt to express my creativity: painting, making beads, carpet weaving, embroidery, dancing and modeling clay are just a few. But in photography I have found the ultimate tool and language to describe and communicate that something that has for so many years kept me restless and seemingly rootless. Having received no kind of formal education at all, I began experimenting with photography in 2009, and since then photography has become an integral part of my life.

As well as your photographic projects, you’ve also written pieces on a whole range of topics from moving out of a parent’s house to rural life in Georgia, which are illustrated with your own photographs. The result is a meeting between art and journalism - how do you see the relationship between visual and verbal storytelling?


Photography made an impressive impact on reshaping the public's opinion on different kinds of topics. We are used to hearing stories about poverty, war, violating human rights and block the emotions how sad it must sound. But we still do react to photographs showing the same issues. Photography is very powerful on its own. but I do believe that photos shared with the right words can double their power.

"Photography made an impressive impact on reshaping the public's opinion on different kinds of topics."

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How Was Your Day photo series

More specifically, your stories and projects often focus on topics relevant to Georgian culture and its recent history - could you talk a little about Georgian national identity, and how your relationship with the country manifests in your photography?  


I was born after the collapse of USSR. The 90's. This period for Georgia was very challenging:  poverty, secessionist movements, rising nationalism, Civil wars, displacement. Problems were coming from all sides. One of my strongest childhood memories is that of my mother boiling water for hours, pretending to be cooking, and waiting for me and my brother to get tired and fall asleep. This way, she would not have to disappoint us by telling us that we had nothing to eat. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, things came crashing down for our parents and grandparents. Our parent’s generation is called the lost generation; they ended up in a system where their experience, knowledge and skills were no longer useful and viable. My generation, which grew up in this period of transition, is better positioned to deal with these changes, but we have witnessed our fair share of instability. Every generation has a particular set of circumstances that shape their experiences and collective identity; my generation was shaped by the transition and the problems that arose from the collapse of the Soviet Union and I do believe that it's all there, in my photography. 

In projects as disparate as ‘5 Second Rule’ (looking at trans women in Georgia who are involved with sex work) and ‘How was your day?’ (photographing young children in the unmonitored space of the kindergarten), there is real sense of immediacy and authenticity. How do you build relationships with your subjects that allow you to take photographs like this - or do you attempt to maintain a boundary between subject and photographer?


I always take time to get to know people before photographing them. Days, weeks, months, even years if it's needed. Especially if it's their story I am going to tell. I try to show people the way they want to be seen.  

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Five Second Rule photo series

Five Second Rule was made in the frame of Multimedia Lab Production Grant Program for South Caucasus Female Photographers

The ‘Things I Stole’ series is particularly poignant. In it, naked bodies are pictured alongside usernames one might see on a dating website, exploring the strange distance and vulnerability of ‘ghosting’ someone, or being ghosted. This is such an everyday occurrence, and yet one which often remains painful and confusing to the discarded party. What is your creative process in terms of developing ideas for your projects, from the initial stages to the execution?

 

 


My creative process differs from project to project. Sometimes I have some idea and start experimenting with different visuals until I find the one. Sometimes I take photos first without any body of work in mind and in the end I start seeing these photos together. For example "Things I Stole" came to my head while listening to the song “Things I Stole” by Choir of Young Believers and thinking about the things we steal from others: time, memories, loneliness, joy, happiness, heart, and I remembered a friend’s boyfriend, who disappeared one day, left home and never returned.   It took my friend more than two years to recover…    At first, I asked questions about similar experiences and discovered that almost everyone around me has experienced ghosting at least once. I then began to search Google for statistics and information on this phenomenon. I was constantly checking usernames on online dating sites.   I wanted to use these usernames in one way or another. I experimented with different ways of presenting them with photos and found this form of combination. 

"I try to show people the way they want to be seen. "

C O N T A C T

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