Freemanning: Leliani, Kakheti


It’s my turn for a break from Svaneti and I seize the moment, now that the guest season is winding down and I’m also free from school duties. My wife urges me to have a few days off while she looks after the two remaining cows and continues her school job, teaching English as I used to. I take in Tbilisi and see as many friends as I can, and also manage a trip to my in-laws in yet further away Kakheti. Of course, I take my camera and lenses with me.

The rtveli, or grape harvest, here has been dismal thanks to hail; my father-in-law has hardly a single grape to show for his labors. So, vines hanging heavy with their luscious black-purple, red or white-green fruit are not the main subject, as I wander around looking for inspiration. Others, however, present themselves.

How DID those chickens get half-way up that water tower’s far-spaced bars to roost for the night? I miss their ascent on two evenings, and have to content myself with shooting the result as they perch and preen seemingly somewhat precariously but, one trusts by their instincts, actually quite safely. Certainly, no four-footed hunter, not even a wild cat of any size or type, could reach them way up there.

I stroll back through the family’s vineyard, which does look rather forlorn bereft of its main purpose for existing. Better luck next year, as the farmers can only say. Over a small fence to a backyard lane, muddy and puddled with recent rains. It’s hardly good ground for my city shoes, and I didn’t think to ask to borrow a pair of rubber boots, but when I’m in a frame-hunting mood, few things distract me: not heat, nor cold, wet (as long as the camera stays dry), hunger, or thirst. I am as focused as my camera is.

The lines of puddles make pleasing shapes and reflections in the fading sunset as I crouch down to take more of them in with a long lens. I muddle on through the thick mud, remembering that my shoes and jeans, I can always clean and dry, but a photo only comes once!

The burbling of a small stream alerts me to the possibilities of flowing water, now that I have sampled the joys of unmoving reflections this calm evening. And here the “Joy of Photography” written about by another Canadian photographer, Freeman Patterson, comes into play. I love his work. Some rules must not be broken, such as don’t drink and drive! Others are only starting points for creative fun. If you break these in ignorance, you are lucky to get away with it; in full knowledge, you are unfettered to perceive and offer surprise. If you know your equipment, too, well enough to use its full range of manual settings without much thought, it becomes merely a creative tool, an extension of your mind’s eye.

The sunset colors on that gently swirling water are what grab me. The evening is already darkening, so that slow shutter speeds on my hand-held long lens will soften things a bit. No matter! I don’t need a tripod for what I’m seeing and enjoying to capture it. Indeed, a bit of motion blur on the water will only add poetry and help to portray both what my eyes are seeing and what my heart is feeling, which is the joy of a tiny, humble and simple scene becoming what I consider art. Almost all other passers-by would not even stop; but it’s quietly been… summoning me.

Ten years ago, I would have husbanded every 35mm film frame, knowing I have only 36 and a couple of extras per roll before having to change and start again. Hours at best, usually days, to see how it turned out. Scan, clean up the dust and scratches on the computer, too much time. Now, in digital freedom, I can shoot, check the results instantly, adjust if necessary, re-iterate on the spot, and choose from a much larger number of shots. My learning is still happening, just much faster. And if I’m open and looking for a subject, usually it will come to me, sooner or later.

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 over 1700 members, at

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

Tony Hanmer

12 October 2017 18:32