After returning from years of war coverage, Peter van Agtmael tries to piece together the memory, identity, race, class, and family, in a landscape which has become as surreal as the war he left behind.
I am a freelance photographer, independently working on projects and available for assignments in Caucasian region and in Europe.
I was born in Georgia, Tbilisi in 1987. Since 2003 I have been interested in photography.
In 2013 I graduated from MA program in photography, at KASK (Royal Academy of Fine Arts) in Ghent, Belgium.
Rustavi is the fourth-largest city in Georgia, situated 27 km southeast of the capital, Tbilisi, with a population of about 120,000 people. The history of Rustavi is considered to have two phases: an early period from ancient times until the city was destroyed in the 13th century, and a modern period since 1948 until the present day. During the second half of the 20th century Rustavi was hastily rebuilt as a key industrial centre. The core of the city was the Rustavi Metallurgical Plant, which, next to other 90 large and medium sized factories, played a key role in supplying the Transcaucasia region with steel. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, almost all plants were shut down, unemployment reached 65 percent, and crime and poverty surged. Recently two large plants have reopened: the Rustavi Metallurgical Plant (renamed as Georgian Steel) and Geosteel, owned and managed by British-Georgian and Indian-Georgian private companies respectively.
”What the hell brought you here?” was a question I was repeatedly asked by people in Rustavi, whom I met in the streets of this city. The question was a reaction, and revealed the attitude of people about their own surrounding, rather than a genuine curiosity about my project. During the shooting I perceived Rustavi as a dead city, not in the sense that people can’t live there, but because it feels as a cemetery of an ideological myth that served as a purpose to build it. Rustavi is like a theatrical décor without a viewer; a shop of second-hand clothes in a rusty garage, sheep pasturing on a football field, an airplane turned into a kindergarten. On the surface those sites seem humoristic but when one looks at the context and sees the full picture, those unusual, odd momentums reveal something dramatic: a struggle of an average inhabitant of this city to keep on living.