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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Digital Death of My Photography

Year ago, I took a photography course.
Pretty famous cinematographer showed us camera tricks. We walked around Old Tbilisi, armed with Soviet Zenit (Leica rip-off) and one film roll (36 shots, sometimes stretched to 40). Zenit settings were manual only.
After great fretting about under-over exposure, when the printed results were too bright or too dim, too lifeless or too cluttered, we just had to live with it.
My teacher used to say: “a good photographer notices and controls everything in the frame”.
I’d get very excited when manual rolling button would move freely – the film was done. I had to roll the film back into the carcass. Sometimes I’d lock myself in the bathroom, lights off, to make sure that the film is safe in its Kodak or Fuji tomb.
My teacher used to say: “you know that you are a good photographer when you get three perfect pictures in row. Then you know, it was not an accident”.
The waiting period followed. Film had to be exposed. We’d unscrew our Zenit’s lenses, point them to the exposed films and carefully select frames. Lots of guesswork – green was red, it was hard to say if the image was blurry, etc.
And then…the final waiting…to see if real pictures matched the guesswork. Sometimes they were better, sometimes they were disappointing.
My teacher used to say: “a perfect picture does not need retouching”.
Some pictures were salvageable. I’d sit down and carefully crop the pictures with a paper knife, throwing away the garbage. Then I’d paste the much smaller pictures on a cardboard.
With all this work, with all this effort, every picture was revered. Every picture could become “the perfect picture”. I would never just snap a photo. I would carefully examine many angles, positions, double-check aperture and shutter speed.  I would carefully adjust the lens focus. And with each movement, I’d re-adjust.
My teacher used to say: “you have to consciously take many, many pictures, before you become a good photographer”; he said: “these images of a cactus do not qualify as homework!”
… Sometimes when I adjust focus on a projector lens for the trainings, I remember how I used to adjust lens for every single frame and I smile.
The only skill I have left now is taking pictures from different positions. Oh, I am not shy to stand right in front of you to take a good shot. A good shot is worth your frustration.
But I lost it all, the shutter speed, the exposure, the depth, the aperture size. The appraisal of the composition.
I just took 700 (!) pictures of an event. Some of those pictures turned out pretty good. Well, I do jump around and am bound to accidentally capture something special. I have a very nice camera - so nice that when I try to auto-correct exposure via Photoshop, no changes are necessary most of the time.
It takes so much time to sort through 700 pictures and pick several for the PR purposes. Because unfortunately I have still retained the skill of assessing photos.
11 years ago, my teacher told this boy from the other group who joined us for photo-taking tour: “here, choose the one you like” and the boy chose me. All the pics on my blog (with several exceptions) belong to me or this boy.
…I could never take three good pictures in a row. Now, I doubt I can take even one.
 P.S. I took this photo in Budapest. I actually like it.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Roadside Georgia

Georgia for me is a big chunk of land divided by a highway. There’s stuff right of the highway and there’s stuff left of the highway. The road itself starts in Tbilisi and either ends in Batumi (the long version) or in Kakheti (the short version). My mental map of Georgia is this thin strip of land on both sides of the road, bordered by the mountains. I’ve been living in a two-dimensional Georgia.
Despite the fact that I have traveled all over Georgia – tents, nice hotels, bad hotels, cities, villages, valleys- despite the fact that Svaneti  is the only region I have not yet visited, despite the fact that for the last 4 years I always chose positions that include working in the regions - I am still a tourist in my own country.
Really, what is Georgia for me? Batumi in the summer and Gudauri in the winter? Nice hiking area?
These people I see from the cars, these people I train, I sit down for therapy, why do they wear different clothes, what do they all day? How do they live? What do they do for fun?
Do you know what is the first place that I absolutely have to visit, even if I have nothing to buy? Smart supermarkets. Thank god there is one in Akhaltsikhe, in Gori, in Gonio. Smart supermarket is where I find shelter, ATMs, tea, clean bathrooms. Where I know things.
My comfort zone has extended to Kutaisi now. I can walk around the center alone without getting lost and mostly understanding the situation.
I spend so much time, so much time with people who discuss Game of Thrones, Benedict Cumberbatch, the latest event at the Mtkvari club, did-you-see-that-video-of-a-kitty-on-9-gag, and I start believing that this is what Georgia is, that everyone around me watches kitty videos, that everyone misses Breaking Bad, that everyone has a FB account. I am not surprised that some people don’t know English, but it doesn’t sound right to me. I don’t mean perfect English, I mean not understanding computer commands or “Friends” dialogue. I realize how incredibly snobby I sound.
And I actually do go out there. I actually spend so much work and vacation time outside Tbilisi. Yet, I don’t let the country in. I leave, I lock up my thoughts and beliefs; I don’t try to fit in – I try not to annoy. The only thing that I identify with is the nature. Those mountains on both sides of the road. I feel like they are mine. Mountains and the Smart supermarkets.
How did it happen that I am a tourist in my own country? It had something to do with refusal to watch TV.  Something to do with declaring that I am better than all this. That I am "way too educated" and "way too liberal". And as we took the new shortcut around Kutaisi  last week, I felt like my point of reference – the road – shifted. I caught myself thinking: I don’t even know how long we need to ride to the horizon until we reach the border of Georgia. Is it 2 hours, 3 hours? What’s out there? Azerbaijan, Russia? But then of course the shortcut ended and we went back to familiar highway, this road I’ve been riding several times a month now. Western Georgia-coffee at Zestaponi-Rikoti twists and turns-Nazuki-Khashuri roundabout-Gori Smart-abandoned Berta building-Jvari-Digomi-home.
…I wish I had a village, I wish I was not born and raised here, I wish I could connect, I could remember,
how must it feel to wake up on the 2nd floor, under 4-sided roof, walk to the balcony rail, shiver and hurry downstairs for breakfast.

Cause I don’t know.

P.S. Pic I took in Kakheti last year.