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Department of Social Anthropology

 
Maria's photo competition lead image

Maria Sakirko - An exploration of Georgian migrants’ sense of landscape through double exposed photographs

 

These photographs were made by my interlocutor Janna as part of my MA research conducted in the restaurant Little Georgia in London with migrants from Georgia working there. In the research, I explored the memories of their homeland landscapes: their presence in migrants’ daily experience and their transformation through migrants’ encounter with new surroundings.

For this, I developed co-creative visual methodology based on the photographic technique of double exposure. One of my interlocutors planned a trip to Tbilisi for a week. I gave her a simple film camera and asked her to take pictures of the places she missed or felt especially connected with. When she returned back, I rewound the film and asked her to take pictures in London on top of the layer taken in Tbilisi. As a result we got double exposed photographic film, where the landscapes of London and Tbilisi were intertwined in an accidental way creating a new landscape. The conversation with the printed photographs elicited multiple sensory connections between the two cities existing in my interlocutor’s imagination, and brought new narratives about her places of memory and their meanings.

The London tree that listens to Georgian stories

 

 

Looking at this photograph Janna described a route (hardly recognizable due to the night time), which she often walked through in her childhood and still returns to in her memories:

 

Even here [in the restaurant], when I spoke to customers and showed them [Georgian guidebooks] books, I always told them: if you go there, there will be my house. I missed it a lot in the beginning. [...] On the Meidan [the square], round the corner, there was my music school. Somewhere here there was a turning down Avlabari Street, where I walked with my granny. I imagined this route and took a picture of it.

 

The image of Tbilisi is overlapped by a picture of the tree that stands in front of the restaurant in London. As Janna explains, it is not just any tree: it is a central constituent of their place, a silent listener: “Under this tree we shared our Tbilisi memories, personal life, and secrets; we laughed and argued, and smoked”. Absorbing these stories, the tree grows and obtains its identity and character. Through this living process, memories of Tbilisi join with and constitute the London landscape.

Janna’s sister in London

“This is my sister... inside [the Little Georgia]. How can she be there?” – when Janna said this, I noticed that her voice was trembling: “Vai me! [Oh my God!] Masha [my name, same as Maria], it is so difficult!” She tried to remember where and when she took the picture. She took a pause; looked for a handkerchief; went outside to smoke. Although the image was constituted from two layers of reality, and Janna knew this, it still had emotional power based on “a certificate of presence” (putting it in Barthes’ terms): it was as if the photograph was stating: “she was here”, making a long-awaited dream come true: “For many years, walking around and discovering London, I looked at different buildings and wondered what Dina [Janna’s sister] would say about them. She has never been here” – explained Janna.

Little Georgia

In this photograph the iconic Georgian carved balconies fall coincidentally at the entrance to Little Georgia restaurant in London. Looking at this image, Janna talked about the changes in Georgia in her absence: “Here, I photographed only the top of the buildings. I was so disappointed that they covered and blocked up the whole street; this time I wanted to run away from this street as soon as possible”. When you live in a place, changes in the surroundings occur gradually and you change gradually within your landscape. When you return after being away, you see the changes all at once and suddenly feel the rupture between yourself and the place. Janna misses old houses with high ceilings and enormous balconies; going-to-ruin stairs in a courtyard; and a specific smell of history that she compares with the smell of old books. This Tbilisi exists inside the Little Georgia in memories, objects, photographs and stories of migrants, but it has been disappearing in Georgia.