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A year of new beginnings: George Nebieridze’s book ’17 is an exhilarating ride through sleepless Berlin

30 August 2019
Interview: Liza Premiyak

Photographer George Nebieridze doesn’t remember a time when he wasn’t carrying his camera. In 2015, he first decided to collect all of his photographs in a single publication — a tradition he’s kept up every year since. His third and latest book, ’17, pulsates with youthful energy and sexual liberation, photographed against the sunrise softened sky and Berlin’s sleepless and somber surroundings. It also marks important milestones for the Georgian photographer, including the birth of his second daughter.

Ahead of his book launch on 31 August at Berlin’s 68projects, Nebieridze shares his influences, his ferociously candid style, and photographic mishaps.

Emma Wilhelmina Black
Dan's Mirror Tooth
Heidi and Emma

Your last book, ’16, came out two years ago. What have you been up to since then?

I’ve been busy growing up, which has meant becoming a father of two. Despite all that, I’m trying not to abandon my own inner child. I’ve done some interesting things over the last two years: I returned to Georgia, where I taught a workshop at The Photo Lab as part of Batumi/Odessa Photo Days. I had the honour of being the youngest mentor, along with two very well-known Georgian artists, Natela Grigalashvili and Koka Ramishvili. At Batumi/Odessa Photo Days, I also got to exhibit some of my photos from ’17 and ’18 at The Contemporary Art Space alongside Koka Ramishvili. The show got a very positive response from the public when I honestly wasn’t expecting a lot of attention. Batumi isn’t my hometown and it was pleasantly surprising.

I’ve also been working on commissions for various music magazines. I never take a break from work, and even in the most stressful and exhausting periods of my life, my mind is always thinking about photography. ’17 took a long time to make. I already have all the material ready for ’18 and some of ’19.

Early Morning Industrial
Early Morning Industrial

When did you decide to collect all your photos in an annual photo book series, and what was your motivation behind it?

It all started in 2015 when I realised that I had a huge amount of material from the year and didn’t know what to do with it all. Just posting photos on my blog didn’t feel right and I wasn’t in a position to have an exhibition in Berlin at that time. A book felt like the next step. It was an incredible feeling to hold my first printed book in my hands.

So many photos in ’17 made me think of the unspoken, immediate, and meaningful connections you make in clubs, fuelled by chemistry and tenderness. Is there something in particular about human relationships that you try to explore or express?

Young people — mostly queer young people — are the subject of my work: I’m interested in how they interact with one another in relatively free and safe environments. Not all interactions in clubs have to be meaningful, however. They are also forgotten very easily, which is another reason I take photos at parties. I keep them as my memories.

Mitte Berlin Sunset
Another Placenta
Tristan Cat

Among all your images of friends and strangers, ’17 features photos from the birth of your second child. Why did you decide to include them?

Sweet dreams: George Nebieridze’s tender tribute to the Tbilisi of his youth
Read more Sweet dreams: George Nebieridze’s tender tribute to the Tbilisi of his youth

From an early age, I was inspired by the work of Larry Clark and Nan Goldin. I think many artists channel their personal experiences into their craft. I don’t see any reason for separating my personal life from my photographic work.

Whether it’s a crazy, sweaty moment on the dance floor or an intimate interaction with a friend, they are all pieces of my life and my reality. Nothing is staged. When I’m asked to describe my work I usually say that I make fine art/documentary photography which shows my own reality. I can’t think of many things that are as personal as the birth of my child.

I’m also drawn to juxtaposition. I like to have this bizarre diversity in my work, sometimes putting photos and stories next to each other which, at first glance, have nothing to do with each other. It’s up to the viewer to find clues and connections, that’s when all the fun begins.

Pick one photograph from the project and tell us something we would have never known about it.

Ambient Gig

Ambient Gig

This photo, from page 166. It shows a group of people with their eyes closed. It was taken during Sarah Devachi’s beautiful, ambient gig at Acud Macht Neu. I was taking photos there for a magazine and was trying my best to be as quiet as possible. Every detail of that music is important, so the slightest noise can ruin the experience. It seems like I did ruin it for this man on the left of the photo, who is the only one with his eyes open. He’s staring at me and probably hating my guts. It was a nerve racking moment.

Viola for i-D
Deli Sunset
Piano Party

What do you see as the key unifying thread that runs through your personal work?

Everything, but also nothing. They are all my photos; that is already a connection. They all mean something to me on different levels and are reflections of my personality, which can be extremely diverse at times.

I believe photographers should have a recognisable style and manner of taking photos. It doesn’t matter how different their subjects are or at what time of day they’re shot, but it’s important to develop your own handwriting in photography. I might be photographing airports, for instance, or close-up shots of insects in a forest, but there’s still going to be that unexplainable thing that connects these photos.

Of course, there are technical things that connect them as well — they are all shot on 35mm and colour film.

Helsinki Airport
View Geneva

Are there any events and experiences from 2017 that do not feature in the book but influenced the publication anyway?

I don’t think so. Everything that was significant enough to photograph in my life is included in the book. That’s why I think it is so complete. I don’t feel that it’s missing anything. I actually took out around 120 photos which were originally selected for the book, but for various reasons didn’t make it to the final version. Obviously I’m not discarding those photos; I plan to use them in different projects and even include them in some of my upcoming exhibitions.

What’s next for you?

Apart from the official book launch on 31 August at 68projects, I am participating in an exhibition at C/O Berlin called No Photos On The Dance Floor, which opens on 12 September. It is an unbelievable milestone and experience for me. For myself, it’s as close to an Oscar nomination as you can get.

On 20 September, I’m doing a presentation and artist talk at The Workshop On Forster in Kreuzberg. I’ll be showing some of the photos from ’17 and having a book signing.

I will start designing ’18 at the end of the year and will try to have it done by mid-Spring of 2020, or even sooner. Stay tuned.

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