The amazing story of Tata – A girl rediscovered in Svaneti 14 years later
16 October, 2014
The amazing story of Tata – A girl rediscovered in Svaneti 14 years later
Aaron Huey, photographer for National Geographic, took a photo of a little Svanetian girl named Tata in 1999. She was only eight years old back then… The photographer visited Svaneti several times afterwards, looking for a bright-eyed Georgian girl, but failed to find her. However, fortune smiled upon him during his last visit in 2013, and he finally found Tata again. Her new photos caused quite an uproar on National Geographic’s webpage. In a few hours, a photo of Tata
accumulated more than 129,000 “likes.”
We found the famous photographer’s Georgian muse and decided to introduce her to our readers in greater detail.


TATA PILPANI,
22 years old:

– 14 years ago, I was visiting my mother’s family in Deduleti, Lenjeri. Aaron was there too. I was eight years old back then, but I still remember how charmed he was by my eyes. He kept complimenting me on them and asking to let him snap a photo of them. I don’t remember what else he said, though. I was very little…

– You didn’t get to see the photo he took, did you?

– I did, in fact. He sent me two copies through the family that hosted me. Naturally, I preserved them like treasure. I know that Aaron loves Svaneti and Georgia in general. I was told that he was looking for me, carrying my photo around and showing it to everyone. But I wasn’t in Svaneti when he visited in 2012, so we failed to meet again.

– How did you meet in 2013, then?

– By accident. I had a visitor from Tbilisi and we were up on a Svan tower to enjoy the view. It turned out that he was also in Svaneti and on that same tower. My relatives told me that he was looking for me, so I came up and asked him, “Are you Aaron Huey?”
“Yes”, - he replied. I remembered his face very well. “I am the one whom you took a photo of 14 years ago” – I told him. He was very surprised.
“Are you Tata?” – he asked, bewildered. His reaction was the same as the one I remembered when he saw me 14 years ago. There was no limit to his happiness. He immediately took a photo of me and thus made a photo collage with the old and new photos.

– Did he tell you that you retained your childhood face?

– No. He told me with a smile that I have changed.

– You discovered that you are popular thanks to the internet, right?

– Yes. He took the photo of me in 2013 and I found out about this only now, in October 2014, by accident. I’ve seen these two photos on the internet before but not in newspapers. My family and relatives liked the first photo, but they really didn’t expect it to be followed by another. There are many jokes circulating about my newfound popularity now. I could never imagine that a simple photo of me would attract the entire world’s attention. I like taking photos myself, although I am an amateur, so I decided not to tell Aaron about my hobby…
National Geographic has published similar photos before, when a journalist took a photo of an Afghan girl in a Pakistani refugee camp in 1985. The girl’s huge, beautiful eyes attracted the entire world’s attention back then as well.

Related story:

Meeting after 14 years: National Geographic photo reporter repeats journey to Svaneti

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