Dmitry Gomberg: The Shepherd’s Way

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We are pleased to release October's print, Up to the Mountains in the Fog from Dmitry Gomberg. Read more about Gomberg's work below.

Purchase this print and from our print sale page.

Up to the Mountains in the Fog
6 x 9", Edition of 5, signed and numbered
Archival inkjet print

The way of the shepherd encompasses all the facets of life: birth and death, creation and consumption, solitude and fellowship, times of work and times of celebration. Above all, it is a journey. In an ever-connected, technological world, we are irresistibly drawn to lifestyles like those of high mountain shepherds, ones that feel in tune with something deeper and more authentic than our own modern ways of living. There is beauty in the simplicity and harshness of the shepherd’s life. This is what Dmitry Gomberg found in the five years that he spent among the shepherds and cheese makers of the Caucasus Mountains and in the people who were his companions until their death.

Four Shepherds

Gomberg did not set out to make a statement about the shepherds that he lived with and photographed in the Tusheti region of the Republic of Georgia. A photographic storyteller, he found himself fascinated by a lifestyle that he had never seen before. Born in Moscow in 1980, Gomberg moved to New York in 2000, changing professions several times before pursuing photography at the International Center of Photography. While living in New York, he made friends with a group of Georgians who invited him to the tiny mountainous nation. Having grown up watching Georgian cinema, reading the literature, and listening to his father’s stories of traveling throughout the Soviet Union, he was already enchanted by the place. He readily accepted his friends’ invitation and travelled to Tusheti, Georgia where he was introduced to Vazha, a brigadier and the leader of the shepherds. Gomberg joined Vazha and his cousin, Sasha, on a journey leading a flock of sheep from winter fields to the mountains. Their main goal was to keep the sheep alive.

Gomberg’s photographs document the time he spent in Tusheti and the lives of the people he met, but also include landscapes, candid portraits, and still lifes. The comprehensive series contains images of a rustic lifestyle: people making bread and cheese, spinning wool, and preparing meals; men wrangling flocks of sheep over stunning mountain passes; and animals grazing and shuffling along on green grass and in deep snow. It is fitting that in this digital age Gomberg uses film to document a way of life that seems to be from an earlier century. Made from 2008 to 2013, these pictures address the seasons, both of the year and of life. While the life and work of a shepherd varies from season to season, there is constantly food and feast. Throughout Gomberg’s story of the high mountain shepherds of Tusheti, the life and death cycle, and its effects on both the animals and their human caretakers, is explored in beautifully atmospheric color photographs that favor a lush earthy palate which compliments the harshness of the subject matter and the richness of the landscape.

Three Horses Taking the Path to Tusheti Mountains

To Summer Fields

Heartwarming images of fuzzy, bright lambs appear early in the series. They seem to glow in a dark interior or clinging to the shoulder of a shepherd, too little to walk quickly through the snow. Seas of sheep spill through valleys and speckle the countryside. They walk in long lines, cutting into the sides of snowy mountains. Guided by shepherds on horseback, the sheep ford streams and slide down rocky slopes. Gomberg’s images transport the viewer to this remote and beautiful land, presenting the shepherd’s life as a harsh yet fulfilling existence. Alongside the wide, breathtaking photographs of the flock making their way through the mountains are scenes of butchered sheep for feasts, or animals that died during the difficult trek. In one image, three horses slide precariously down a mountainside thick with wet, slushy snow. The animal in the center tumbles forward, its hind leg high in the air. There are wolves, bears, and large birds in the mountains. The sheep on this trek regularly fell to predators, slipped into ravines, or perished from hunger or disease.

In the village, Gomberg documented an enormous festival, for which many sheep and some cows were butchered. Having grown up in the city, the experience of seeing animals killed with a knife and then eaten was new to him, and his curiosity is evident. Although the sheep are thought of more as product than as pets, the animals possess their own personality and character. One poignant image features half a dozen sheep overrunning a building, climbing on the stairs and grazing on the nearby grass. Pictures like these make life in Tusheti seem idyllic and simple for both humans and animals.

In Gomberg’s photographs, we see things begin and end, and all of the affairs in between. Although the shepherds’ work is hard, it is portrayed as humble and rewarding.  Life ends, but it moves on. In 2013, after living with and photographing the shepherds for half a decade, Gomberg’s guide and good friend Vazha was killed along with two other shepherds when their car fell from a cliff. After the tragic event, Gomberg decided the project had come to an end. Returning home, he reflected on his five years’ worth of images and began to put them together as one cohesive body of work. Back in the mountains of Tusheti, the friends and relatives of the deceased killed a small black goat and threw it from the mountain at the location of the accident. They didn’t look back at the sight of the falling goat, and they vowed never to look down from that place again.

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This article first appeared in print in Issue 5.

Emma Kisiel is a photographer and the author of Muybridge’s Horse, an art blog and index that explores humans’ interactions with animals and nature. With her husband, dog, and three cats, she is currently making her way from the Midwest to the Northwest.