Tbilisi Migrant Stories

Data Chigolashvili from GeoAir reports from Georgia on fieldwork within their bridge-building project.

Visual Storytelling: Tbilisi Migrant Stories project implies collaborating with schoolchildren, who are working to create visual stories about “new” migrants living in Tbilisi, Georgia. During our preparatory phase we were fortunate to get in contact with history teacher Nino Abuladze from school #43 in Tbilisi, who has been working with her students on making various projects including fieldwork practice and visual documentation.

Following some preliminary meetings, we met interested students for the first time as the school started and discussed project objectives and their potential participation in it. “We cannot wait to get started!” – was the response from one of the students, when asked if they wanted to know something else at the end of our introductory meeting. This excitement still surrounds our workshops and fieldwork part of the project.

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For the first two meetings we met with the teacher and 6 participants in the school, discussing two major things – ethnographic fieldwork and photography tools used for visual storytelling.

First meeting was rather theoretical where we discussed basics of doing ethnographic work – what kind of questions can be asked, what can be observed, how the diaries should be kept, etc. followed by some meaning of documentary photography, main tools to be used and examples of power of the visual storytelling by Tamara Bokuchava (Social Photography Caucasus Foundation). Thinking that too much theoretical discussions could have worked against the excitement mentioned, some role-playing activities regarding fieldwork situations were also conducted – to answer ethnographer-students questions, Data took different roles starting from a migrant from Brazil living in Tbilisi, to an old man disturbed by youth club in his neighborhood.

During the breaks, we also visited the Iranian café 78, just across the street from the school, were we met with its owners, also participants of our project and had some delicious food, which many of us had never tasted before.

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On the same day, children were given the cameras they are using within the project, some introduction on documentary photography was made and a practical home work was given for the next meeting – from several topics they encounter on everyday basis, students were asked to choose one, think of what questions they could ask to find out more on what they are interested to know and bring few photos as examples of documenting the topic.

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During the next meeting some more information on photo techniques were introduced, as well as some examples of visual storytelling were shown and discussed. Later on, students presented results of the exercise, discussing various experiences from practical exercises – starting from the challenges of taking pictures in some chosen places, ending with photographs of Tbilisi youth fashion in the streets.

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Material was discussed and excitement was getting bigger, as the next step implied starting fieldwork. Divided into groups lead by mentors from our team, students went to obtain material for visual stories–to work with already selected migrant groups, or those they were about to discover. The country of origins, as well as reasons for coming to Georgia and occupations of participating migrants is very diverse. Students are currently photographing their everyday lives, as well as recording interviews – material which is being discussed and transforms into stories screened for wider public and postcards distributed during the event.

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