Olli Thomson

Talking Pictures – Corner Store

This picture was taken in Tbilisi on one of the streets in the Sololaki district. At the time my main camera was the Sony NEX-5 and a friend who numbered the same Sony among his many cameras let me have the use of the compact 16mm f2.8 lens for a couple of days. This lens was routinely panned by reviewers and users and so I had never been tempted to buy it even though it was inexpensive. Instead, I eventually picked up the Sigma 19mm f2.8 lens which was even cheaper and a great performer.

So I took the 16mm for a walk round Sololaki and came across this little grocery store on a street corner with a display of fruit and veg outside. What really caught my eye was that blue wall, standing out in a neighbourhood that was mostly shades of grey or brown. Together with the bright colours of the fruit in the crates it was a blaze of vivid colour in an area where every other colour was faded or washed out.

Even with the 16mm lens this was a tricky shot to get. This is an old part of town and the pavements are narrow so I had to stand in the street. It was on a corner and Georgian motorists are not known for their circumspect driving. So while trying to frame this shot I was also keeping an eye open for cars and vans sweeping round the corner to my left, constantly having to jump back onto the pavement when one appeared.

Eventually there was a sufficiently long break in the traffic for me to get this image. Having managed one shot I decided it was not worth life and limb trying for more. What is interesting about this picture is that I was sufficiently distracted by trying not to get run over that I never even saw the older man in the shop evidently chatting with the person behind the counter. That might seem surprising but in the original shot the interior of the shop is very dark and I did a lot of processing of the file to make this man more visible, to the extent that it has a somewhat unreal level of brightness. Still, I chose to go with this slightly artificial look because I think he adds a lot to the picture.

While the vibrant colours, the patterns of the fruit in the crates and the formal ranks of cigarette packs in the window are all strong features, it is this man looking upwards towards his invisible companion, mouth slightly open as though caught mid sentence, dressed in his heavy coat and cap, apparently settled in for a while that gives the picture life and an element of mystery.

And the nasty little Sony 16mm did just fine. Yes the corners are rubbish on the original file as they were on nearly all the shots I took using this lens over those few days, but who cares about the corners? Without that lens I would never have been able to take this shot, not without a police officer to stop the traffic while I stood in the middle of the road, and this is one of my favourite shots from my two years in Tbilisi.

The technical details: Sony NEX-5, Sony SEL 16mm f2.8 at f7.1, 1/40, ISO200.

Comments (4):

  1. Jim Grey

    15 February, 2019 at 6:03 pm

    The fellow in the shop doesn’t look unnaturally lit to me at all!

    • olli thomson

      16 February, 2019 at 3:53 pm

      Thank you Jim. I think it looks a little bright to me because I’ve seen it side by side with the rather dark interior of the original shot.

  2. Marcus Peddle

    16 February, 2019 at 3:11 am

    Great photo. I agree with Jim that the interior lighting doesn’t look unnatural. I like the blue wall and it’s a shame the building on the left is not painted as well. I see that cigarettes get the most prominent spot in the store, just like Korea.

    • olli thomson

      16 February, 2019 at 4:01 pm

      Thank you Marcus. This part of town is a strange mixture of older buildings that at one time were painted in brighter colours that have now faded and flaked, and newer structures that make copious use of raw concrete. Someone made an effort to take the bad look off this particular concrete wall but most were left as they were.

      All the corner stores like this had extensive displays of cigarettes. Some of them looked like brands I recognised though many more were unknown to me and were particularly pungent. Unfortunately at the time we were there smoking in public places was the norm and only a few bars and restaurants were even close to smoke free. As of lat year, though, Georgia has implemented some of the world’s toughest anti-smoking laws so it will be interesting to see how this affects small stores like this one where cigarettes sales are an important contributor to the store owner’s income.


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