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My wife and I are in her home village for a few days; it’s her mother’s birthday on February 15, an event we’ve rarely been here for, having been in Svaneti since 2012, the time equivalent of a transatlantic flight away. Now, from Tbilisi, it’s a mere flight to Istanbul by comparison.
I take the opportunity to renew my friendship with the vineyard, as I always do when here, camera in hand, lenses in backpack. The trimmed, winter-leafless vines will always remind me of grasping monster fingers from the Alien movie series, but that’s just me. I get a few shots in the low midmorning light and move farther back to the dirt road behind the property.
Here something new greets me: A series of puddles with about 1/2 an inch of ice on each. Not smooth, but with forms suggesting a set of ripples on each, arrested mid-motion and frozen in place. This cannot be the explanation, because ice does not form so quickly here (it would need temperatures far lower than a few degrees below freezing for such instant results). But in my mind it’s the prettier story, so we’ll go with that.
I move around, avoiding positions from which my shadow enters the scenes. The contrast is high from the low sunlight, but I can work with that, shooting RAW files which have a lot of exposure latitude from brightest highlights to deepest shadows. Later, I’ll convert my work to black and white to eliminate the distraction of color, and do some HDR (high dynamic range) versions to get all the detail I can in those blacks and whites.
The house dog accompanies me, but she’s too small to crack the ice as she walks on it, and is never in one place for long enough to make me want to shoo her away, exploring everything with eyes and nose.
A neighbor farmer drives his tractor through, and we greet each other. I’m glad I got here first and photographed everything I wanted, as his thick back tires will certainly wreak havoc on the delicate puddles. But he has work to do, so let him be on his way. I crouch down for some closeups of the ice, so that there will be no clues from obvious elements like grass or leaves to give scale. Sometimes that sense of mystery is just what I’m after. There is much in nature which repeats its structures on different scales; this is one of the characteristics of what are known as fractals. My simplest definition of the word “fractal”, indeed, is “made of itself”.
My nephew calls from his monastery in answer to my query, that we can visit him there today, so it’s time to head back and announce this to my wife and her sister as we’ll drive there together. That visit will likely be the subject of another article, as it’s another rare thing for me and likely to contain much of interest, aside from simply seeing the young man in his own setting. Like the puddle photos which do have an obvious size range based on visual clues, seeing Luka where he lives will give needed context to a situation which would otherwise lack it. I look forward to this, and hope that taking photos at the monastery will have no obstacles. See you all there next week, or soon.
BLOG by Tony Hanmer
Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer and photographer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with nearly 2000 members, at www.facebook.com/groups/SvanetiRenaissance/
He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri: www.facebook.com/hanmer.house.svaneti