Elk in the River
by Jon Michael Anzalone
About the Book
The legend of the city of Tbilisi is framed within a strange uncertainty of death. King Vakhtang’s hunted prey is struck and falls into the Mtkvari River. In some versions, the creature perishes in the river’s hot springs. In others, it is restored by the healing waters. In both tales, the King is inspired and he founds the city in that place. What a strange moment, when something’s fate is at once so important and so irrelevant.
From Tbilisi I traveled to Svaneti, hidden in the mountains for centuries. I have always worked in cities, and I wanted to discover what would happen if I took my photography to a place where I could not depend on my usual comforts. Svaneti only became accessible recently, and, even so, with effort.
My friends in Tbilisi told me the Svan are the old soul of Georgia; they are a part of the culture isolated by the still raw and frightening geography. In the cities we have been pressed up against each other for so long that some of the edges have been worn down, but in the mountains much is unchanged. Could my own soul be in such a place, calling out from a tower in the valley?
There was a storm in the mountains the night I arrived. I fell asleep to the tapping of hail on tin and stone walls, and in the morning the valley of Zemo Svaneti was rich with the sound of the river.
Elk in the River collects 100 black and white photographs from the Republic of Georgia in the city of Tbilisi and the remote mountain region of Svaneti. It is collected in a 200-page hardcover book.
I am a classical-style film photographer based out of Queens, NY. I shoot while I travel, producing most of my work for a year over the course of a short trip. I have worked in Western Europe, Eastern Europe, The Baltics, The Balkans, India, and Turkey, as well as the US and Canada. In my travels have nearly been eaten by wild dogs in Romania, stowed away on trains on three continents and befriended Dracula's neighbor. I was present in Mumbai during the 2008 November terror attacks. I work hard and I believe strongly in what I do.