Maria Sturm: Country Roads

Photographs and text by Maria Sturm

Country roads
When we are young, we want to be adventurous, we want to explore the world,
See new places, try to live differently for once and be far from our home.
Still, we’ll always be attached to this our home, regardless of it being a place,
A feeling or a person.

The series country roads tells a story about georgian youth,
Their desire to leave the country for some time, but always knowing that they
Want and will return to mother georgia. Some day.
And it shows the rawness and the beauty of this country, in it’s landscape and in it’s future.

Roman Bezjak, one of my professors was working on a longterm project about socialist architecture, that by now is published in a book called “Socialist Modernism – Archeology of an Era”. Most of our field trips went to eastern Europe, thanks to Roman’s project. Last year he met Wato Tsereteli, a photography professor from Tbilissi Art Academy and eastablished a connection to Georgia. In December 2010 me and 14 other students accompanied Roman on a trip to Tbilissi, Georgia. We visited the Art Academy a couple of times and exchanged works, thoughts and of course contacts with Wato and his students and we went out for dinner and drinks almost every night. We all spent a lot of time together, which was a very nice experience, as it gave us the opportunity to not just be a tourist or photographer, but to really see how life is in Georgia. I try to meet locals anyway, when I’m in another country and in this case this came naturally, as i did not need to search for contacts.

I remember talking and spending time with Gala. He showed me the city and the countryside and told me story, that caught my attention: One of the most popular plastic surgeries in Georgia is making girls virgins again. In Georgia, as in all caucasian republics traditions are held high and pre-marital sex is looked upon very negatively. It’s the 21st century though and Internet and TV have done their best to loosen many girls’ the rigid adherence to tradition. That leads to two things: a lot of early marriages or being revirginized. This movements background is on the other hand very brutal. During the secession wars a lot of virgin girls have been raped. The aim was to do an installation with statements from teenage girls about their wishes and desires. According to my research, the answer of most of them would be I want to be married. I would have cut out just this sentence from all interviews, given that it was were very likely to be uttered and I would have displayed a picture of the actual surgery room along with the interviews and the title “revirginized”.

I haven’t done the interviews. I was very sick and weak during my stay, because of a fever virus I must have gotten it from the odyssey of a journey we’ve been through to arrive in Tbilissi, with a two day delay. I felt a little down, because I thought I’m not able to realize a project. But still I did a couple of trips, one time for example we rented a car and drove up to the russian border and back, passing some extraordinary mountains and landscapes. And I collected some phonenumbers of local youth, I found interesting and met them to talk again about their lives and their dreams and to take their portraits. I even managed to take the photo of the surgery room. On my last day, as it happens so often. I came home with the feeling, that I wouldn’t have sufficient material. But after reviewing my pictures and discussing them with my friends and professor, I changed my mind. I combined the landscapes with the portraits and named it “Country Roads”. The series tells a story about georgian youth, their desire to leave the country for some time, but always knowing that they want and will return to Mother Georgia. Some Day. And it shows the rawness and the beauty of their country, in it’s landscape and in it’s future.

All photographs ©Maria Sturm