“Things I Stole” by Mano Svanidze, or the Pain of Not Knowing

Representing the absence, the uncertainty, the frustration, the pain… this is what the Georgian photographer Mano Svanidze wanted to do with her series “Things I Stole”. We discussed her life, her aspirations, her need to represent the human being…

Hi Mano, can you introduce yourself briefly to our readers?

Hi, I am Mano Svanidze, born in 1992, in Tbilisi, Georgia. It’s where I am currently based in. I graduated from Tbilisi State University, Faculty of Economics and Business.

“[…] I always wanted to know how “brainwashing” works, so I ended up with a BA in Marketing.”

When I was choosing what to study, there wasn’t the option of photography back then. Besides, I always wanted to know how “brainwashing” works, so I ended up with a BA in Marketing. I also studied composition and music for 10 years. In 2009, without receiving any formal education I started experimenting with photography, since then it became an integral part of my life.

"Things I Stole" by Mano Svanidze, or the Pain of Not Knowing
©Mano Svanidze

I am the co-founder and member of the Georgian photo collective “90’x Collective“. We are a photographic cooperative of kids from the 1990s, the generation that grew up after the collapse of the Soviet Union, whose remains you can find in our photographs.

“My grandmother was my inspiration.”

How did you discover photography?

My grandmother was my inspiration. My interest in photography has deep roots in my childhood. After Georgia declared independence from the Soviet Union, wars broke out in different parts of the country. Due to the conflicts between Abkhazians and South Ossetians, thousands of people had to abandon everything and were forced to flee.

"Things I Stole" by Mano Svanidze, or the Pain of Not Knowing
©Mano Svanidze

My grandmother was one of those people who had to leave their homes. All she took with her were a few pictures. She was often asked why she took pictures and not, for example, her jewelry or other precious objects; after all, they could be more useful in a war situation.
The silence with which she answered this question never failed to impress me.

“In a way, the beauty of nature does not seem perfect without humans, even if it is humans who destroy everything.”

As I grew up, I always felt attracted to art and I embarked on many disciplines: painting, bead making, dancing, carpet weaving, embroidery, and modeling clay are just a few examples.

But in photography, I found the ultimate tool and language to describe and communicate this thing that, for so many years, kept me restless and rootless. In 2009, I bought an old Soviet Zenit E camera and that’s how it all started.

"Things I Stole" by Mano Svanidze, or the Pain of Not Knowing
©Mano Svanidze

What drove you to portrait photography?

For me, humans are the most interesting creature in the world. Wherever I go, I’m always looking for people. Even when I’m surrounded by the most fascinating landscapes. In a way, the beauty of nature does not seem perfect without humans, even if it is humans who destroy everything.

“[…] I remembered a friend’s boyfriend, who disappeared one day, left home and never returned. “

I love portrait photography for several reasons. The most exciting thing is when I find the ability to look into someone’s eyes without it becoming weird, uncomfortable and unpleasant.

"Things I Stole" by Mano Svanidze, or the Pain of Not Knowing
©Mano Svanidze

How did your project “Things I stole” start?

One day I was listening to the song “Things I Stole” by Choir of Young Believers and thinking about the things we steal from others: time, memories, loneliness, joy, happiness, happiness, heart, and I remembered a friend’s boyfriend, who disappeared one day, left home and never returned.

“It took my friend more than two years to recover…”

For a moment we even thought something terrible had happened to him and he had died… until one day she recognized him in a picture that had been taken after he disappeared. It took my friend more than two years to recover… We still don’t know what happened, where he is now and why someone would disappear like that…

"Things I Stole" by Mano Svanidze, or the Pain of Not Knowing
©Mano Svanidze

How did you create the images for this project? Was there a lot of preparation beforehand?

At first, I asked questions about similar experiences and discovered that almost everyone around me has experienced ghosting at least once. I then began to search Google for statistics and information on this phenomenon. I was constantly checking usernames on online dating sites.

“[Black and white] has this kind of nostalgic void.”

I wanted to use these usernames in one way or another. I experimented with different ways of presenting them with photos and found this form of combination. Later, my friend, who was the inspiration for “Things I Stole”, told me that she wanted to do a very personal photo report, only on her experience (she is an incredible photographer herself). So we decided to gather our ideas and now we are working on this subject together. I can’t wait to see the final result!

"Things I Stole" by Mano Svanidze, or the Pain of Not Knowing
©Mano Svanidze

Why black and white?

Somehow, black and white seemed more suited to this project….. It has this kind of nostalgic void. Colors bring light, beauty, and hope. I didn’t want there to be any in these pictures……

“I couldn’t imagine that after 10 years […], I would still feel my heart beating hard holding a camera.”

Are there any other topics you would like to address through photographic series?

For me, photography has two different lives.
First of all, it works as a therapy, a beautiful and exciting process that is more effective than any drug. I couldn’t imagine that after 10 years of taking my very first pictures, I would still feel my heart beating hard holding a camera.
Secondly, it is a social responsibility to do something against the crazy processes around us. I believe in photography as a way to create change.

"Things I Stole" by Mano Svanidze, or the Pain of Not Knowing
©Mano Svanidze

What advice would you give to a photographer wishing to build a series?

People have different ways of working, but I believe that if you follow your heart and are honest about what you do, you will discover the builder in you.

“Watching TV has done me good – more than real life.”

Do you have any upcoming projects you can tell us about?  

At the moment I am working on a photo book about my recent project “Pilot”. About a year ago, a car hit me. Due to injuries to my spine, I had to spend a lot of time in bed without being able to move. During that time, I saw a lot of TV series. I was watching episode after episode. Watching TV has done me good – more than real life. It helped me to forget my situation and get used to my new reality.

"Things I Stole" by Mano Svanidze, or the Pain of Not Knowing
©Mano Svanidze

One day, I watched 22 episodes in 24 hours. That was the day I decided to make this project. “Pilot” is about TV shows – their addictive nature and me, dealing with it. Photos combine two-part, one from real life and another one from the TV series.
Here reality merges with the TV world and, as a result, we get something ugly, scary, and mystical. Like seeing 22 episodes in a day. Most of the photos are taken while watching famous TV shows. Others while going through my old photographs.

“It is a reminder of that time when I lost a clear understanding of reality […]”

Every time I needed to walk around and take new pictures, I would start going through my archives and “recapturing” them. “Pilot” is the world that doesn’t exist.
I tried to create a sphere where it would be difficult to draw a line between the real and the surreal, where characters lose their original faces and transform into an elusive person. It is a reminder of that time when I lost a clear understanding of reality and lost myself in different realities.

Discover Mano’s work on his website, and follow him on Instagram.