Female photographers ‘talk’ about tabooed social issues

Article, 08.03.2020

Stories are shaped by those who write, who create. In the modern world of abundant information, there is a growing need to tell the stories about people and social issues from diverse perspectives – from a female perspective. In 2018, SDC’s Regional Arts and Culture programme started to announce annual grants for female photographers from the South Caucasus to cover social issues and use the medium of photography as a powerful tool of storytelling. Through tailor-made mentoring, the female photographers also learn every nook and cranny of photography.

Mano is taking a picture of herself while looking into the mirror
Mano Svanidze - the way she sees herself ©Mano Svanidze

Mano Svanidze is one of the 14 female photographers who has already received a grant for a social photo project and online mentoring from the professional photographer, Justyna Mielnikiewicz. Mano is a self-taught freelance photographer.

“It’s a luxury to be able to work on the project of your own choice, and to have a mentor who is always there to guide you through the process, and to render not only technical, but psychological support as well. When in doubt or uncertain, my mentor was the one to help me out and push me forward. “Follow your heart. Just do it,” she would say,” remembers Mano.

a transgender woman lying in bed with a teddy bear
The Five Second Rule - Mano's photo project featuring everyday life of transgender women in Georgia. ©Mano Svanidze

At the heart of Mano’s project were women, transgender women in Georgia. For 6 months on end, Mano has been working closely with 15 transgender women who fight for survival every “night” – it’s not safe for them to be out in daylight. The night does not always secure safe return home either. In a conservative society as Georgian is, being a sex worker on a night shift is their last resort.

Being a female photographer has its advantages. Women are more sensitive that helps them build trust and work on delicate issues, and really get into a story. Mano managed to establish close bonds with her protagonists, and they’ve let her in for this project, and forever. This grants program helped Mano grow as a professional, as well as brought high visibility to the challenges transgender women face daily in Georgia.

A grandmother with Alzheimer thinks she is a little kid
A gradmother wtih Alzheimer's desease caught on camera while playing with dolls ©Mano Svanidze

Mano will be celebrating her 28th birthday on 9 March, just the day after the whole world will mark the Women’s International Day. Unfortunately, she will no longer be able to observe either days with her grandmother, who passed away when she was 19 and was her inspiration to become a professional photographer deviating Mano from the chosen path of becoming a marketing specialist. Her grandmother fled war-torn Abkhazia in 1993 with nothing but a family photo album.

“She would not tell and nobody could understand why the photo album. But now I understand. She was wise, she knew what matters most and that stories have a chance to survive through photography. She was the first person I started to photograph. Even when she developed Alzheimer and thought she was a child (and I was always her mother), she would pose for me. I have a series of photos of her playing with dolls,” Mano says.

This year, 7 more female photographers from the South Caucasus will be enrolled in the grant program and be able to put forward more social issues from a new angle, in a new form.

The grants are issued by the Multimedia Lab aiming to support the professional strengthening of emerging women photographers of the South Caucasus region to cover social issues in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Multimedia Lab is part of the bigger Regional Arts and Culture programme funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.