Blog Beginnings: 2007

Twelve years ago this month, I began a blog,, to write and exhibit photographs. It was still half a year before I moved wholesale to Ushguli, from where the blog continued, using my cellphone as modem and posting from my desktop computer. I already had about 30 years of photographs and travel behind me from which to draw, and in that first year I averaged more than a post a day. This blog eventually ran out of Google’s allotted storage space, and I started the next one, Four years later, I had some tens of thousands of views, and enough CV material to persuade the people at Georgia Today newspaper to take me on as a weekly writer from Svaneti, then in the full throes of Saakashvili’s renovation. So that was eight years ago this month, without missing a single Friday issue to date. Here are a few early blog snippets, showing where this ongoing journey began. Thank you very much, GT!

1st posts, March 2007:

Living in St P[etersburg, Russia] from 1992-99 was a real adventure. A beautiful city, but the weather was typical of a far northern swamp. Countless visits to the Hermitage. Footsteps of Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment". Architecture to dwarf the soul and then exalt it. Beyond that, soul-destroying concrete jungle, only the interiors of apartments betraying their inhabitants' personalities. I loved it and was prepared to stay for much more than the seven years I had—but all the time the Caucasus was pulling my attention south as well.

St George and Mother Georgia monuments, Tbilisi Old City, Georgia, December 2006

The former is a new work of Georgia's patron saint by Zurab Tsereteli, replacing the banished Lenin statue in what is now Freedom Square. The latter is a Communist-era piece higher over the city, holding a wine bowl for guests and a sword for enemies. Joke: she's saying to her guests, "Drink this all or I'll cut your throat!"—welcome to the subtleties of Georgian hospitality...

April 2007

Etseri and Ushba, August 2004

Another journey which gave me much to dream about before it happened. Nodar's brother Sergo and I [on horseback] crossed a bridge over the Inguri from Etseri and then climbed and crossed the "mountain wall", taking about six hours to reach several log cabins on the other side. Here a few families spend the summer, grazing and milking their cattle, making nationally famous sulguni cheese and sending it back to Etseri weekly for sale elsewhere.

Sounds a simple trip, right? At one point early on, before we even crossed the river, my horse was going downhill at such a steep angle that I almost fell over its head, yelling in fear. On the other side we had to stumble, mounted, over an ice-and-snow bridge on a tributary to the main river. Then the long climb; glorious views, even Ushba showing through the clouds—without that peak I might not have bothered to shoot, so important is it; not far down to the cabins after that. After overnighting there, I had new views the next morning, including one for the cover of a book on Svaneti I'm slowly writing. Mountain-scapes gradually shrugging off their veils of cloud; even a short rainbow.

The trek back to Etseri was mostly downwards, down the mountain wall, and this is when it really got insane. Rain in the night had made the leaf-strewn ground slippery, and the horses made tiny mincing steps as they cautiously felt their way. Sensible enough: but at this rate it would take a very long time to get home. There was nothing for it but to speed things up. I followed my host's lead as we dismounted. Then all we could do was run down the blasted mountain pulling the horses behind us—two not huge men descending at a steep angle with large beasts slipping and sliding and snorting down their necks for several hours.

I had my photographs, the journey was behind me. Was it worth it? Well, I survived. Will I always?

A footnote to the story is that, of all the [35mm] films from all three of my visits to Svaneti in 2005, only a single roll remains. It's the set with the wall-crossing trip's best shots on it, mercifully; but lost somewhere in Canada, stolen from an unlocked mailbox where well-meaning friends left them, are more views of Ushba, and all the frames from only my third ever trip to Ushguli. Such is life, occasionally tragic. Move on.

Sukhishvili Dancers, Tbilisi, June 2006

It may now be permitted to photograph concerts of Georgia's spectacular Sukhishvili national dancers, but several years ago it wasn't. I snuck my camera in several times anyway, in a plastic bag, and shot on slow shutter speeds without flash until one of the ushers found me and told me to stop. The conditions forced the way of shooting, with blur resulting—but what better to capture motion from dance than blur anyway?

Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with nearly 2000 members, at

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri:

By Tony Hanmer

14 March 2019 16:59