National Geographic photographer Aaron Huey travels back to Svanetia, a remote region of Georgia, to revisit the people and the place that inspired his future career.
Watch the video and answer the questions about it. The activity is suitable for Intermediate 2 students.
1 What was Aaron doing when he first went to Svanetia?
2 What was special about the Svanetia language, according to the German linguist?
3 What was Aaron's plan when the bus stopped?
4 What was Aaron's adopted family celebrating?
5 What did Aaron write in his journals to help him learn about the language and culture?
6 What was the family doing all the time?
7 What are some of the themes that run through the songs?
8 What was Aaron's reaction when he reunited with Nuna, her adopted mother, after 13 years?
9 What does Aaron say the job of a reporter is?
To check your answers, you can read the transcript below.
The first time I went to Svanetia I was not planning on going to Svanetia. I wasn’t a photographer yet.I was a backpacker (1) but this is the story that made me a photographer.
I met a German linguist who told me about a place where people spoke a language that had never been written (2), that was surrounded by seventeen, eighteen thousand foot peaks, so this German linguist drew a map on a napkin for me and I transferred it into my journal and I left the next day.
And on a bus ride into the mountains a woman turned round me after about two hours and said where are you going and I said, Well I'm going to camp when the bus stops at the end of the road (3) and she just looked at me and said, no, God, please don't do that and she took me with her and she took me to a wedding.
And that wedding was of the eldest daughter of the family (4) that ended up adopting me in this region and they got me drunk and made me dance and I woke up the next morning in their home and they probably felt some pity on me and thought we should shelter this kid, he doesn't know what he's doing. That started a three-year relationship, that's now I guess a sixteen-year relationship, now that National Geographic sent me back.
Yeah, my journals really are pretty pedestrian at times. I was very young. They’re embarrassing to read sometimes but there are some things I still really love in the journals. I wrote down recipes and I wrote down vocabulary so I would have like daily language lessons for myself and, of course, the song. I wrote down all the songs (5).
I saw the potential for a story that was a little bit more like poetry, that was revealed more about the soul of people and the space and it was that third year that I returned specifically to try to make a story with pictures and that became my first photo story.
That was some of my first rolls of film. It’s the first story that made me fall in love with the people, with the place. That really is what it is, like the story made me fall in love with a whole community. It was imagery of that family, that family is central to all of those early trips and the photographs. They were beautiful people, they were musical and their home was filled with song. All the time I would wake up to singing (6). I would go to bed to the family singing together and from the very first trip they taught me their songs. And I remember those songs when I came back 13 years later.
You know I might think, the songs are about heroes and about love and about your friends having you back (7), all good things that good country songs are about.
The reunion with my adopted family was a little embarrassing because a Georgian television crew followed me and I told them they had to stay back at the gate. It was really emotional for me, you know, and I saw my, my mother from that family, Nuna. I went to her and I, I hugged her and it just made me start weeping (8).. Like the songs that were really buried in me that, they just came out like I, I love this woman and that came out when I saw her and when I held her and it was exciting to see them and it was confusing to see them in how you restart a relationship after 13 years but the fact that they wanted to bring me in again, that they had not forgotten me, that they still thought of me in that way was very moving to me. And they did, they took me in again.
so I found this, I found all the families again. I sat down with them again, and sang with them again, and talked to them about their lives. And the old man still played chess in the backyard in the same spot. And the girls, the whole family still sings in the kitchen. And there are some other things that just never change and I found a lot of those again.
There were, other scenes that I found that weren't necessarily literally the person in the same place, but I found the same scenes again. I found the dancers and the traditional singers and it brought back that memory of those first images when I see them together side by side like I see what has survived.
These stories are not just about making pretty frames. We, we tell the stories of entire peoples, so if we do the story right, we preserve those things, you know, in… that's what our job is, to preserve that poetry (9).
So many people that have never heard of Svanetia or this region in the Georgian Republic or where these people, these ones, this may be the only thing they ever read about these people and I think that's what I look for now in all of my projects is can I can I keep finding that? Can I keep carrying that much?