Georgia

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(1987, Tbilisi) Tako Robakidze is a documentary photographer based in Tbilisi, Georgia. She is a graduate of Tbilisi State University with a B.A. in Law, and of Caucasus University’s Graduate School of Journalism with a Master’s degree. She also studied at the photography school, Sepia for five years.

Since 2010 she’s been working as a freelance photographer, cooperating with Georgian and international NGOs to cover diverse social topics. Her work is focused on documenting sociopolitical conditions and experiences of war in Georgia. 

She has received grants and fellowships from Magnum Foundation, the Tbilisi Photography & Multimedia Museum Multimedia Lab, the Goethe Institute and the Stanley Greene Legacy Prize. In 2022, she was selected as a VII Academy Fellow, and is a National Geographic Explorer. In 2023, she was chosen for the VII Academy Mentor Program.

“A Look Beyond the Headlines”

In recent years, Pankisi Gorge in northeastern Georgia has faced controversial perceptions due to its Muslim population. “A Look Beyond the Headlines” challenges these labels, urging audiences to see beyond headlines and recognize individuals leading peaceful lives with unique traditions and customs, gradually dispelling the myth of danger associated with the Gorge. Pankisi symbolizes the paradox of modern perception: consumed by images we construct in our heads, we overlook the extraordinary reality of ordinary people.

Starting the project during visits to the Gorge, I learned how dramatic influence of mass media on collective thinking can be, and how detrimental the media's obsession with "terrorism" can be for the lives of ordinary people.

Interview 

What was your inspiration, process, and research?

I was born in the last years of the Soviet Union and grew up in a difficult time in Georgia during a civil war, without electricity and gas, but with many stories of injustice and human rights violations. Since I decided to be a photographer, my work has had a purpose: to protect people’s rights and give voice to the unheard through a single lens and photo.  

Starting the project “A Look Beyond the Headlines” during visits to the Gorge, I learned how dramatic influence of mass media on collective thinking can be, and how detrimental the media’s obsession with “terrorism” may be for the lives of ordinary people. Pankisi residents represent an “ordinary” population, like any other, although they were forced to carry the label of “terrorists” due to the individual incidents and, most importantly, due to a spirit of sensationalism in the media. The insufficient media coverage of the region truly affected the Pankisi population, and, at the same time, misled the general public, resulting in false perceptions.  

Before my visit to Pankisi Gorge, I too perceived the area as extremely dangerous. However, upon arrival, I discovered an eye-opening experience that completely changed my views about the region. I was astonished and inspired by the kindness, wisdom, hospitality, and general beauty of the Kist people residing there. From the very first day of my trip, my goal was to document the dynamics of raw, real life in Pankisi Gorge. 

What do you hope to achieve with this project?  

Often, we fail to see the truth because we are overwhelmed with information today, making it difficult to distinguish between true and false stories. I hope to make a contribution in changing the perception about the Pankisi Gorge by showcasing true stories of real people.  

Were you able to apply what you learned at VII Academy/Foundry Photojournalism Workshop to this project, and if so, how?

Yes, absolutely. I am still in the process of learning, which I believe is the most beautiful aspect of my journey with The VII Foundation. I apply the knowledge and techniques I’ve gained from VII Academy and Foundry Photojournalism Workshop to my work every day. Whether it’s carefully editing photographs, discovering the central narrative thread, or enriching the texts through collaboration with colleagues, the skills I’ve acquired continue to shape and improve my work. Thanks to the invaluable insights from VII Academy’s free lectures, this journey of growth is ongoing and nonstop.