Young Georgian Saba Gorgodze came into the world of photography from skate culture after realizing that outside of the monotonous everyday life and struggles at school, many interesting things were happening in the developing subcultures of the city of Tbilisi. Meeting with those skaters was the breaking point in his life and future career. With no artistic background, Saba acknowledged that skateboarding and art had very much in common and decided that photography was the medium he wanted to express himself through.
Having developed a pretty special relationship with the camera, Saba’s imagery is filled with mysticism, sadness, happiness, love, struggle; a rollercoaster of emotions from his personal experiences and the life of young people in general surrounding him. The rough social environment, political influence, vicious traditions, stagnation, and hopelessness are pretty hard on Georgian youth, especially when the level of education and chances for personal development are fairly low in comparison to other European countries.

All of this is very well depicted in Saba’s projects, where the images talk for themselves and are the evidence on how the ignorance of those in power affects the future of young generations. Georgia's history has always been about white versus black, light versus dark, European values versus a communist mindset, freedom versus conservatism. The fight for a better future is still on the streets, in the minds and hearts of young people of Georgia. And Saba is capturing them perfectly.
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How did you get into photography and how long have you been photographing?
I guess it began with skateboarding. For the sake of skating, I started going out more and meeting new people so my friend circle grew and my interests slowly shifted towards art. For me, skateboarding and art are almost inseparable. At the beginning of 2012, I started asking some of my friends to lend me their cameras and already in 2013, I knew photography was what I wanted to pursue. This is the seventh year since I first started taking pictures.
One of my ongoing projects about skaters and teenagers that I started in 2012 was a sort of debut and my first exploration of photography as an art form – not just the act of snapping or having fun. Photography is a profession that needs years of experience as the formation process is pretty hard and figuring out the concepts takes a long time. When I started photographing, my interest grew in filmmaking as well, so I decided to study at the Theatre and Film University. But as a result of low-quality education and nihilism, I soon left and decided to entirely drop myself into photography.
Since then, I am working on personal projects and am trying to avoid the commission works as I am more interested in fine art, just getting things done and selling my photographs. Selling images is a bit complicated in Georgia as it’s not a developed practice yet so I have to reach my voice to those few people who are already familiar with the commercial side of it.
Tell me more about your experience with skateboarding.
I started skating in 2011 and meeting with the skaters was a breaking point in my life. No one in my family has an artistic background, so getting introduced to skate culture was mind-blowing. The situation at school was really bad. As a boy, you had to either be a thug or nothing; you kind of had no choice. But when I started skateboarding, I realized that many interesting things were going on outside of school and the monotonous everyday life. So we all became very good friends and are now like a family. We often work together on various projects and at the same time respect each other's private space.
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Let’s talk about your ongoing project While White Dog Keeps Barking. What does the name refer to? How did this project come about? And why black and white?
The project is about an imaginary person. This person is me looking for ways to decode specific abstract signs from the surrounding environment and who uses the medium of photography to translate those signs into an understandable language. This project reflects some of my inner conditions that I couldn’t see at first but that, after some time, I discovered. So the project comes out as a sort of guide. The name is because, generally, a dog is a pure and faithful creature while the colour white is also associated with something pure and clean. It’s like a guardian guide always following me and whose presence I constantly feel. As for why black and white, the universe is divided into two colours, black and white. It has always been like that.
What about your second project, The Imaginary World? Can you elaborate more on the lives and struggles of young people in Georgia?
The name refers to an inexistent reality which is hidden and exempt from our pace of life. The images are fragmental, and the name sort of justifies its essence as if it’s just a memory, an imagination, something that never existed and that will never exist. In our reality, it’s very hard to achieve a world like that of The Imaginary World because our life in Georgia is very monotonous, and whenever something happens, it’s pretty extreme. For example, the government violently breaking up a peaceful demonstration of young people and so on.
Here, the struggle of the youth is no different from general struggles teenagers go through everywhere else, but for Georgian youth, it’s even more stressful because of the harsh social environment they live in: severe laws, pressure from the system, the lack of education and having no one around who could teach them things from their own experience. Also, there is this huge problem with employers exploiting young people and paying them the bare minimum when many have great artistic potential, for instance. It’s absurd but that’s also reality; there is no freedom and the rough social scene leaves no room for self-development. It’s all about survival and that’s where the problem is.
Could you tell us the story behind any specific picture that you consider especially meaningful or remarkable?
I will talk about Giorgi’s and Sandro’s photograph, where they are hugging each other in front of the prison gate. The story is that Giorgi was imprisoned for minor wrongdoing. He suddenly appeared in a totally different world where he had to go through hard times. Prison experience impacted him in a way that he started creating art. He found this huge inspiration in prison and continues painting now. This photograph is very dear to me as it is filled with love, respect, and understanding. That’s how real friendship looks like no matter the time or distance, and I think this expression of love is very important.
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To me, your photographs are filled with mysticism. What’s your impression?
I think my photography is all about mysticism. I am seeking to have more from the other world, I believe there are many other levels and dimensions than what we see and seem to feel. My photography is dedicated to finding those otherworldly feelings and my thoughts surrounding them. That’s why mysticism is always present in my photography and if it goes away I wouldn’t be interested in photographing anymore.
I really like how you capture the masculinity of Georgians. Why is masculinity so hard on men here?
There are different reasons for it, but some are pretty obvious. Our traditions, for instance, are very masculine-oriented. Man is always dominant, leaving no place or any chance for women. They can’t accept being less important and they are obsessed with being constantly dominant. This dominance later becomes toxic and often transforms into violence. Sometimes, I think of this scene from Kubrick’s Space Odyssey when one ape grabs the bone and beats another ape down; we are kind of stuck in that moment, inclined to violence all the time. I would suggest these men to observe their selves and ask themselves: where am I and in which direction should I be going? This might save them from ruthlessness. Self-observance is the only way out.
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Talking about masculinity, I’d like to ask you about the protests that took place when renown Bassiani club was stormed by the police in 2018. What was documenting the tensions like?
In May 2018, young people took to the streets, protesting against police violence. On the other side, some religious groups gathered and organized a counter-protest, largely composed of men from the suburbs and villages. These people were totally misinformed about the whole situation but for them, that did not really matter as, in reality, they were there to release inner anger, threatening to beat and kill the young protesters. It was a very strange situation. They had this leader who was giving some instructions on how to beat and fight the protesters. I had an impression that if these people were on their own, they would not be aggressive, they would act normally, but as soon as they were united under one idea, their mindset changed instantly.
I don’t think they are guilty themselves; the guilty are the ones who use them and manipulate them. I call this passive violence. These men are coming from toxic environments and families. They have not had any other chance or seen any other life, so it’s all they know. I guess this rough masculine energy should be spent in other ways, like in art, for example. Lack of education, religious influence, harsh social and economic situation in villages, wrong ways of growing up and having no specific purpose in life are what make these people easily manipulative and controlled.
People are protesting in Tbilisi now as well. What’s exactly happening there?
The representative of the Russian communist party led some sort of religious assembly from the chair of the speaker of the Georgian parliament. This event sparked a huge outrage and thousands of Georgians gathered in front of the Parliament. Later, some protesters decided to storm the building, so the police forces got involved and used excessive force against the protesters, using tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons, etc. I could not take many pictures as the rubber bullets were flying all over the place. Many people got injured and one girl who was just a passerby fell victim to a blind bullet and lost her eye. I don’t know if there exists anything that could compensate for her loss.
These events should have been followed by adequate actions and changes from the government’s side but, unfortunately, the situation very much looks like Russian politics. So the protests are still going on and I think they are very important. Especially because of young people coming together, raising their voice and giving value to that voice. I think that soon, more young people will be going into politics as novelty and open-mindedness are very much needed to put the country on the right track.
What are you working on currently?
I am working on a poster series where I re-document some posters. I am interested to find out who the author is. I question reality, meaning that if I photograph a fragment of a poster – an eye, for instance –, then I ask if this is reality or not. How many layers are there till reality? I try to explore how far is it possible to manipulate the human mind to make them question whether what they see and feel is real. Apart from that, I am interested in how outdoor commercial posters could work in exhibition spaces. How things from the street that don’t really belong to you but at the same time do could be transformed into art pieces. Simultaneously, I am working on a project named Wolves Den, which is a classic conceptual project about survival and combines street and documentary photography. With this project, I try to capture everyday life and the vibe in Georgia.
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