Natela Grigalashvili: The Final Days of Georgian Nomads
Since 2013, the Georgian photographer has been travelling regularly to the Adjara region, where she has been capturing and preserving the life of the nomadic people living there. Her intense long-term project speaks about ancient values, traditions and communities which, in the face of globalisation, are increasingly threatened with extinction.
Bound by the seasons, the Adjarian nomads live in the most isolated and almost inaccessible part of the valley. In the summer, they tend their cattle in higher pastures, harvest hay and enjoy exuberant festivities; in the winter, they withdraw to their homes at the foot of the mountains. The nomads represent only a small portion of a community in the autonomous Adjara region on the edge of Georgia, where people live according to traditional values. There on the border, with Turkey to the south and the Black Sea to the west, nature is unusually beautiful and untouched to this day; the rules of urban culture and normative everyday life do not apply. “I learnt about the lives of the Adjarian nomads a few years before I started working on my project,” Grigalashvili remembers. “One day I decided to visit the area. As soon as I got there, I was so impressed by the people and the environment that I immediately understood that this was a story I wanted to work on.”
“I want to depict the lives of these people in my photos, preserve the traditions that disappear with the decline of the population and the arrival of globalisation – to preserve those things that may no longer exist tomorrow.”
The documentary photographer has now been travelling to the region regularly for ten years, spending time with the locals, while exploring their existence and their rituals. A lot has changed within this decade: many of the architecturally-unique wooden houses have been abandoned; a number of families have moved away; while others are making plans with regard to where they might go in the future. “Globalisation is one of the greatest threats to traditions all around the world,” Grigalashvili declares. “And because of it, many traditions are disappearing, which will cause the loss of cultural diversity in different countries and communities. For me, preserving and depicting the traditions in different communities of my country is very important.”
“For me, tradition represents the beliefs and ideas that pass down through the generations, and preserve the culture, identity and memories of the past.”
A woman stomps hay; a man squats,while praying in a field; youths gather at the summer festival to play and dance in traditional costumes – all the Georgian photographer’s pictures capture community life among the nomads, offering a glimpse into their customs and rituals, their daily work and play. Her poetic compositions are set in stunning landscapes, where people exist in what might seem like an illusory world. In one picture, a young woman in a red velvet dress skips through a field of colourful flowers, like the heroine from some Georgian fairytale, with blue sky overhead and the mountains in the backdrop. It looks as though she may take flight, rising up into the heights, light-hearted and free. Grigalashvili’s images are full of delight, movement and dynamics; she is not only an observer of what is happening, but also an empathic participant. In all her photographs, you can sense how fond she is of this community and theme. Having herself grown up in a mountain village, she knows the issues facing the people there. She uses her photography to try and recapture the past of her own childhood and feelings.
Grigalashvili’s project was proposed by Arianna Rinaldo, who was among this year’s 60 international LOBA nominators.
Born in 1965, Grigalashvili works as a free-lance documentary photographer in Tbilisi, Georgia. Following an initial focus on black and white, she is now dedicated to digital, colour photography. She works primarily on long-term projects in the rural areas of Georgia, where she concentrates on the lives and issues faced by people living in villages and provincial towns.
Portrait: © Nina Baidauri