Tag Archives: Georgia

A Year of Photographers in the Picture

A little shy of a year agowith the world’s attention focused on a change of power in North Koreaa photo of Kim Jung Il’s funeral, released by KCNA (North Korean Central News Agency), sparked controversy. The image had been manipulatedless for overt political ends, more for visual harmony. Blog Submission . The photo’s offending elements, photoshopped from the image, were not political adversaries or top secret information, but a group of photographers who had disturbed the aesthetic order of the highly orchestrated and meticulously planned occasion.

KCNA/Reuters

Dec. 28, 2011. A limousine carrying a portrait of late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il leads his funeral procession in Pyongyang.

In an age where seemingly every occasion is documented through photography from every conceivable anglean estimated 380 billion photographs will be taken this year aloneit’s not only North Korean bureaucrats who are wrestling to keep hoards of other photographers out of their pictures.

Photographers frequently appear in news photographs made by others. Banks of cameras greet celebrities and public figures at every event; cell phones held high by admirers become a tribute in lights, but a distraction to the viewer. Amateurs and professionals, alike, appear in backgrounds and in foregrounds of images made at both orchestrated events and in more candid moments. squido lense . The once-invisible professional photographer’s process has been laid bare.

On occasion, photographers even purposefully make their fellow photographers the subject of their pictures. The most difficult picture to take, it seems, is one without the presence of another photographer either explicitly or implicitly in the frame.

Everyone wants to record their own version of realityironically, it turns out, because by distracting oneself with a camera, it’s easy to miss the true experience of a moment. At a recent Jack White concert, the guitarist requested that audience members stop trying to take their own photos. “The bigger idea,” his label noted in a statement, “is for people to experience the event with their own eyes and not watch an entire show through a tiny screen in their hand. We have every show photographed professionally and the pictures are available from Jack White’s website shortly after to download for free.”

The abundance of camera phones and inexpensive digital cameras has changed the photographic landscape in countless and still-incompletely understood ways, and it’s not just the North Korean government trying to find ways around the hoards of photographers making their way into everyone else’s shots. Here, TIME looks back on the past year to highlight an increasingly common phenomenon: the photographer in the picture.

Red Thistle: The Rhythm of Life in the Caucasus

Davide Monteleone traces the genesis of his new book of photographs, Red Thistle, to 2007, when he heard about a film festival going on in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya. At the time, Chechnya had been locked down for nearly a decade under a special security regime. Known as the KTO, the Russian acronym for “counter-terrorist operation,” the regime had meant years of martial law, curfews and random searches enforced by the Russian military. Not exactly the place for something like Sundance–the region’s film festival was a fluke, a rare chance for some foreigners to have a look around, and Monteleone took it. With his companion, Lucia Sgueglia, who would end up writing the text for Red Thistle, he would sneak out of the guarded hotel to explore Grozny.

“We did this until the Russian troops would catch us and take us back,” Monteleone said. “Then we would go out again.”

What he found was a region slowly restoring the rhythm of life—a weird, entrancing, pensive rhythm—after two devastating wars with Russia fought between 1994 and 2000. After the second war, the U.N. had deemed Grozny “the most destroyed city on earth,” but with billions of dollars in postwar Russian aide, the city had been rebuilt and revived. Over the next five years, Monteleone would return to Chechnya and the surrounding regions of the Caucasus Mountains as often as once a month.

“A lot of work had been done on the wars and the human rights abuses,” he said. “We wanted to study everyday life.”

In 2008, the KTO regime was lifted in Chechnya and travel there became easier, but life was still colored by Russia’s shadow and the legacy of the Soviet Union, which ruled this predominantly Muslim region for almost 70 years. So the settings of Monteleone’s photographs—from the beat-up old Zhiguli cars to the destitute apartment blocks—have a distinctly Soviet texture, a drab, heavy latticework that seems to press against the people inside it. Smiles are not common on the faces in his photos, but they seem to have a stubborn glow amid the grayness that surrounds them.

A common theme, predictably, is death, which is so insistent that it approaches a dulled ubiquity. If there is a kind of music to life in the Caucasus, mortality is its drumbeat in Monteleone’s work. In one frame, a woman in a black headscarf hurries along the sidewalk, not seeming to notice a stream of blood flowing toward her from a bull that was slaughtered in the street. There are weddings and funerals, and both seem to occasion equal measures of melancholy and warmth. At one wake in Chechnya, a group of men perform the Dhikr, an Islamic ritual which, in the local Sufi tradition, involves hours of rhythmic dancing and chanting until the men fall into a collective trance.

“You know that you’re in Russia,” says Monteleone. “But at the same time, life is structured in such a way that you feel closer to Persia or the Middle East.”

That is part of the duality of the Caucasus, which remains a world between worlds. The ongoing insurgency against Russian rule creeps in to remind you that the war goes on—a house stands demolished in one frame after Russian tanks moved in for a counter-insurgency strike—but there is also reconciliation: a group of men from one family walk down a mountain toward a mosque, where they resolve a blood feud with another family that had caused generations of strife. The overall picture is sad but not despondent, and there is resilience in almost every frame.

The unifying image of The Red Thistle comes from the opening scene in Lev Tolstoy’s novella Hadji Murat, which begins with a man trying to pluck a crimson thistle from a ditch in the Caucasus mountains. The thistle fights back, stabbing his hand with its brambles, and only gives in when he has frayed the stem and mangled the flower. “What energy and tenacity!” the man thinks. “With what determination it defended itself, and how dearly it sold its life.”

Simon Shuster is TIME’s Moscow reporter.

Davide Monteleone is a photographer with the VII agency. See more of his work here. Monteleone’s latest book, Red Thistlewas recently released by Dewi Lewis publishing.

Paradise Lost: 20 Years of Independence in Abkhazia

If there is a place on earth that inspires more melancholy, reminiscence and regret than Abkhazia, I have yet to find it. A republic of sighs, home to 250,000 people who still mourn their dead as much as they plan their future.

“Do you remember how it used to be?” they say. “It was like a little Soviet Union.” This is a sweet memory, because the Soviet Union, to Abkhazia, was above all a place where dozens, even hundreds, of races lived under one roof in peace. The brutal ethnic war of ’92-’93 erased many things, but not the memory of a time before bloodshed.

This is equally bittersweet for photographer Yuri Kozyrev, who summered in nearby Sochi as a boy, and who remembers, like all children of the Soviet Union, the paradise that was Abkhazia. Imagine: high mountains dive toward a warm sea. Beaches against verdant forests, long promenades lined with ice cream vendors under palm trees.

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of Abkhazia’s first declaration of independence from Georgia. That initial gesture of July 23, 1992, was boycotted by the ethnic Georgians in government and ignored by the outside world. But soon enough, it began a cycle of attacks and reprisals, fueled by alcohol, old grudges, and the chaos of the Soviet collapse. Total war soon followed, one of the bloodiest and most fratricidal conflicts of a decade that saw plenty of both.

And though the Abkhaz people were victorious—they alone rule Abkhazia now—the republic they liberated has never quite come into being.

Kozyrev and I visited Abkhazia last year, traveling south along that fabled coastline, up into the mountains, down to the tense Georgian border in Gali. Kozyrev had been in Abkhazia during the war; it was my first visit. We were both, however, equally struck by how time just seems to stand still there. A rusting trawler lists on the beach in Sukhum, the radios in the beat up taxis all play songs about the war. In the mountain mining town of Tkvarchal, which starved and suffered under siege during the war, seems half-deserted and wholly inhospitable. Even the national pastime is a sleepy one: the Abkhaz are famous for their skill at dominoes.

Part of this torpor is forced upon them. Georgia and its allies, including the U.S., have been effective in isolating the republic, which it sees as perpetrators of ethnic cleansing against Georgians during and after the war. Only Venezuela, Nicaragua, Vanuatu and a couple of equally small states have recognized its independence. Georgia has blockaded all southern routes by sea and land, and so Abkhazia has to rely on the kindness of its neighbor and patron Russia, with whom it shares a land border.

Yet, they still have their natural gifts. The war did not erase the beaches or the mountains. Russians, particularly poorer ones who can’t afford the neon Shangri-la that Sochi is becoming, still flock to the shore.

The Abkhaz also have something they won at a heavy, heavy price: freedom. The question remains, twenty years later: what will they do with it?

Nathan Thornburgh is a TIME contributing writer and a founder of Roads & Kingdoms, a new journal of foreign correspondence, food, and photography. You can read his full report on his travels to Abkhazia with Kozyrev here.

Yuri Kozyrev is a contract photographer for TIME and was named the 2011 Photographer of the Year in the Pictures of the Year International competition.

Martin Parr: Picturing the American South

The High Museum of Art commissioned Martin Parr to document Atlanta as part of its Picturing the South project—a series of artist commissions that engage with the American South. Channeling his unparalleled ability to collate humor, wit, and curiosity into his heavily socio-cultural photographs, Parr captured the oddities and eccentricities of contemporary Americana.

British-born Parr, whose photography career spans over 30 years, is known for his provocative documentary style by using cultural criticism through an exaggerated and humorous light. His analysis of how we live is not simply satire, as Parr offers his audience an approach to seeing which acts not to denounce, but to highlight (both aesthetically and thematically) patterns between people, the things we consume and the milieus in which we live.

The outcome of the museum’s commission offers a vivid, comedic and touching perspective on the diversity that lies in Atlanta. Parr covers a large body of subject matter in his findings, which ranges from the high and low—juxtaposing images from a gallery opening to an oddly lengthy corn dog on a stick. Parr’s images offer insight which would only be found through the lens of a meticulous and curious outsider.

Beyond the exhibition at the High Museum of Art, Italian publisher Contrasto released a book, Up and Down Peachtree: Photographs of Atlantaand a documetary, Hot Spots: Martin Parr in the American South. The book, a meticulously edited and impeccably designed object in its own right, is printed without text beyond the book’s title and colophon—which, undeniably, is a testament to Parr’s talent for storytelling. The documentary is a 60-minute lens behind the lens where documentarian Neal Broffman followed Parr photographing around Atlanta. The documentary includes interviews with noted curators, writers, critics and photographers, and offers a look into at Parr’s real-life affable personality and interactions with his subjects. Below, Contrasto has given LightBox an exclusive clip on the documentary:

Martin Parr’s photographs are on view now through September 9, 2012, as part of Picturing the South: New Commissions from the High Museum of Art. Up and Down Peachtree and Hot Spots: Martin Parr in the American South are both available for purchase online.