Born in 1999 in Gori, Georgia, Luka Khabelashvili picked up his first camera aged 10, on holiday in Turkey with his family. He’s never studied photography, but is carving out a successful career in the field even so, winning representation by the Open Doors Gallery in London, and exhibiting his work at the Circulations: European Young Photographers Festival in Paris in early 2019. He’s now released his first publication, part of an ongoing series of zines devoted to emerging photographers made by Setanta Publishing in collaboration with Open Doors. But first and foremost, Khabelashvili is part of a new generation, a digital native who uses a digital camera, and freely employs digital manipulation.
The Calvert Journal caught up with Khabelashvili to talk Instagram followers, small-town living, and immersion into art.
My city, Gori, is very small but surrounded by beautiful nature. Because it is a small town, it can seem boring and limiting in terms of creativity. However, that also challenges you to think more. I am immersed in art. I paint, I make music, I am woodcarver — I do a lot of things, but I don’t share everything.
I started taking photos very early on, somewhere between the ages of 10 – 13, when I joined the digital world. I have a lot of shots which I keep to myself, which I haven’t taken, and exist only in my head. There are no digital versions of these shots. They don’t exist for others – you can’t see them, you can’t touch them.
I am attracted to faded colours, especially to yellowish and ochre shades. To me, these colours are Georgia. I love to shoot in the morning when the sun starts to rise or is just up, but even more than that I love golden hour, when the sun makes beautiful light in which everything takes on orange hues. I also love to shoot in cloudy weather because it creates this separate world and environment.
For the past few years, I’ve only taken photos of myself. I used to take photos of acquaintances and friends, but I was always attracted to self-portraiture. Now, I have no friends. The shooting process is difficult in practical terms, but interesting.
I shoot on digital – I have worked with film cameras, but not enough to feel confident. I think I will get closer [to that goal] soon. I have two different approaches to shooting. The first is when I have an idea, a purpose behind a shoot; the second is when I just go out and search for inspiration. Sometimes I use digital manipulation; it helps me express my thoughts and ideas. Two years ago, I started to mix text and images in some of my work — it was an experiment, but I kept going with it. That work has a darker side.
I didn’t do anything to gain more followers on Instagram, it happened naturally after magazines reposted my images or linked to my account, and so on. Last year, I showed my work in Paris at Circulations: I presented my images as very small prints but this didn’t have anything to do with Instagram. I wanted to encourage people to come as close as possible to the images.
I’ve been represented by Open Doors Gallery for the past year or so — they work closely with Setanta Books, and when Setanta got in touch about their new zine series I leapt at the chance to publish something. It’s always great to show your work physically. The images in the book are an eclectic look at my portfolio – some are brand new, others have already been widely shared and exhibited. It’s great to finally get the chance to sequence the images, and to see how they flow from one to the other. They collectively tell a very personal and emotional story about me, and about the viewer too.