Updated: Mar 17, 2022
With the tragedy unfolding in Ukraine, I fondly recall my 2007 summer in the Republic of Georgia. Not fully 5 years into the Global War on Terror, Georgia was open to as much outside influence as it could absorb and always with the thought that at any moment their experiment in Western Liberal Democracy might come to an end. Travelling from monastery to monastery with an expatriate orthodox monk, it was a exhilarating to experience 3000 year old history in real time.
One of the portraits that I was invited to make was in the forge of a Georgian military veteran named Kakaber. A man among men, a swordsmith among legends and an artist among artisans, his pieces were highly sought all over europe among collectors of hand made blades. His studio space was tucked medievally under the outer courtyard of an old cathedral in the inner sanctum of Tbilisi: with only the glow from the forge and a couple of bare halogen work bulbs I took a few tentative handheld shots with a digital camera and then pulled a few negatives with 3200 ISO Ilford Black and White loaded in the Hasselblad.
Hours later, I dropped the film at a lab and somehow conveyed to the proprietor that I needed the film push processed by two stops and then forgot about it until two days later. My guide and I were headed up to the wine making region near Signagi when I asked our driver to pull over so that I could photograph bees pollinating in a field of sunflowers. Returning to the car, Giorgi came off a call clearly shaken and asking if I'd retrieved the developed film yet.
I answered that "I hadn't yet" and counter inquired with, "and can you tell me why you are asking?'
"He's dead. Just now. Only 44 years old," was the reply.
"Kakaber. Heart attack. His family wants to see the last picture that was taken of him. The picture that you took. Can you have it for the funeral?"
There are a lot of lessons that I take from these memories... as my octogenarian father snapped pictures of me with his Iphone moving bales of hay around this afternoon, this one stands out the most- one never really knows when their last photo will be taken.
One never knows when they've become the pin in the hinge of their own history.