URI student to focus on people in Republic of Georgia
KINGSTON, R.I. -- April 13, 2004 -- With camera in hand and rolls of film stuffed in her bag, Lisa Lahr of Middletown, a junior at the University of Rhode Island, will be off to the Republic of Georgia for three weeks in August. The journalism major will focus her camera on that country and its people to complete a photo- documentary she began during her two earlier visits to the former Soviet republic.
Lahrís trip to the land where Jason and his Argonauts sought the golden fleece is supported by a $4,750 fellowship from the Michael J. Metcalf Memorial Fund at The Rhode Island Foundation.
The 40-year-old URI student photographer who was a nurse's assistant before returning to school, will try to capture some of the spirit of the country overlooked by the media, which tends to showcase only political mayhem.
Over the centuries, the republic has been influenced or dominated by outside forces including the Greeks, Turks, Persians, Romans, and Russians. Today it is best known as a haven for Chechen fighters.
Lahr's first visit to the country in 1999 was an outcome of volunteer work at the Naval War College in Newport where she met Inga Paliani, a diplomat from the Republic of Georgia who invited her to visit her country. With some trepidation, Lahr traveled to the former Soviet republic for eight days, staying in a former KGB apartment complex.
Given guided tours to sites in the country, Lahr ran into trouble only once when an angry policemen blocked her from photographing a parliament building where a dignitary was due to arrive. Her host stepped in and calmed the officer. "Next time," Paliani whispered to her, "be quicker."
Lahr returned in 2000 for two weeks for a more independent look at the country. A friend she had met on her previous trip secured an apartment for her. The gypsies with their colorful, ethnic costumes again fascinated Lahr.
When she has asked about the gypsies, she is told to forget them. "They are non-existent," the URI student says. "Their culture isn't catalogued." This summer, Lahr hopes to change that and get a better picture of them.
She will make Tbilisi, the capital city of the republic and a bus ride from Chechnya, home base.
"I'll just pick a direction and go. I'm interested in capturing the culture. I want my photos to exhibit naturally occurring compositions, away from the politics and turmoil. I want to be able to show the country and its people are more than its political upheaval," she says, adding that the Georgians are friendly, literate, and very poor.
"Everyone thought I was out of my mind except Cheryl Foster," says Lahr who discovered her natural aptitude for photography under the tutelage of Warren photographer Angelo Marinosci. Foster, philosophy professor and associate director of URI Honors Program, encouraged Lahr to apply for the Metcalf fellowship, named after the chairman and publisher of The Providence Journal who died in a 1987 bicycling accident.
Lahr concedes she's both excited and a little scared. "I'd be crazy not to be with the upheaval going on," she says. "But I also know that the Georgians have a marvelous sense of hospitality that a guest must be protected."
After she returns, Lahr intends to exhibit her photographs at the URI Library and hopes that the photos might inspire others to visit the country and help in its economic recovery.