a tbilisi diary: documenting a city on the cusp of change
After leaving his native Georgia three years ago for Berlin, photographer George Nebieridze finally worked his way through his archive of old images to reveal a city that doesn’t exist anymore, and a scene that changed beyond recognition.
Berlin-based photographer George Nebieridze is known for his photographic documentation of contemporary youth and its search for love, self-discovery, and liberation. This September he returned, for first time in three years, to his native city of Tbilisi, in Georgia, to exhibit the early works he shot in his homeland before he moved to Berlin. The exhibition is something of a personal and creative milestone for an artist with a global mindset; but it also shows that in Georgia the new wave of youth culture is on the rise.
As the Georgia-born Demna Gvasalia has rapidly reached fashion superstardom, more and more young creatives in the country become visible on the international scene. With a new wave of fashion talents following in Demna's footsteps, and a burgeoning techno scene, Tbilisi has a promising future ahead of it. But its creative flowering is at the same time rooted in the country's turbulent and traumatic 90s, when the pains of newly acquired independence from the USSR led to civil war. The way young people experience this historical transition has always been interesting for Nieberidze. "The title of my exhibition, The Fruit, came when I was contemplating those young faces in the photographs," he explains. "It's easy to feel their anxiety and suffering — derived from Georgia's troubled 90s — yet they don't seem to show any signs of giving anything up. Their optimism blossoms like trees in spring."
"The works in the show stretch from 2006 to 2013 and are shot mostly in Georgia. All together there's over 70 photographs," he adds. "At first, I wasn't too excited to show these photos. I had this feeling that they were sort of forgotten and I wasn't taking them seriously because I was so much younger when I shot them. But now I understand that I wouldn't have achieved the texture of my current work without going through these early stages. I still follow the same rules and have almost the same approach to shooting. Even more, I'm starting to rediscover my early work now and searching for new methods to display it in a different way."
It helps that the topics of Nebieridze's creative research also haven't changed much: he documents moments of heightened emotion and lost control, fleeting flashes of beauty that reveals themselves suddenly in the late hours of the afterparty or during a brief encounter on the street. The signs of disorder and chaos — blood, sweat, blur — are juxtaposed with moments of tenderness. The piercing saturated colors that define Nebieridze's work are also visible here: the blue of a sweater, the red of blood and roses, the dusky grey of the morning.
Considering the prominent place of parties and friends in his early work, were these early experiments with photography just for fun? "I still photograph for fun," Nebieridze deadpans. "But I take fun very seriously. My motivations change every time and photographs gain different meanings over the time. They could be documenting and recording certain moments or events, but might acquire some artistic or sentimental values in the future." In case of Nebieridze's Tbilisi Diaries it certainly happened: it brings back a very personal and ephemeral picture of the city that doesn't exist anymore, or at least not in the way it used to. "Lots of people who are in the photos came to the opening; it was very moving," he adds.
In our increasingly global era, The Fruit also raises crucial issues of national identity and belonging. Based in Berlin for over three years now, Nebieridze has a project dedicated specifically to the new truly global tribe of the city titled Nobody's from Berlin in Berlin. Just like the subjects of his Berlin portraits, he left his home for a new, freer, and more creative environment. But as his work shows, your background is something which one perhaps can never give up entirely. "I don't consider myself to be a typical Georgian guy, but there are things in my character that I can never escape. I tried, and learned that it's impossible and I just have to be what I really am," he says. "My work collects a little from everything day by day and therefore develops in many directions. I don't think I have a lot of Georgian style in my work, but I might be wrong. Tbilisi is exactly like that, actually: you'll see huge diversity of cultures expressed through different elements, like architecture, markets, people, and their behavior… Like in Berlin, nobody's in Tbilisi is from Tbilisi."
Looking at his native city with a fresh eyes, Nebieridze also appreciated how it changed and developed as the new generation of creatives emerge. "I noticed changes in everything, starting from society's views and interests, to other details, like streets and buildings," he says. "On the other hand, politics and a conservative mentality are still big problems. The techno and fashion scenes are like on steroids here, growing so fast, but it's still dangerous to walk in the streets everyday with dyed hair and nail polish. But I also saw so many new faces. I have no idea where these beautiful creatures come from."
Text Anastasiia Fedorova
Photography George Nebieridze