In Conversation With… Sofi Mdvinishvili: Tiblisi’s analogue photography scene (NSFW) – by Neto Macedo

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During 2018 I lived for some months in Tbilisi, capital of Georgia (the Caucasus region country, not the US state). As an analog photographer, the first thing I did before going there was to tool for local analog photographers and labs. I found about work and a place to develop my films at around the same time. In fact, I met both at the same place. Tbilisi is a marvellous place for exploring with your analog camera (and your digital one, too).

I talked with Sofi Mdvinishvili, a 24-year-old film photographer about how it is to be a young analog photographer nowadays in Georgia, what are the cool places to go and how she thinks her work. This article is the result.



NM: We can start with a small introduction, if that suits you. Where were you born? What’s your background besides photography?

SM: I am Sofi Mdivnishvili and I am 24. I was born in Tbilisi, Georgia. I graduated in English Philology and I wanted to be a translator. I have never learnt anything about photography before. Starting taking photos was a new phase in my life.

NM: How did you start in photography? Was your first contact with photography using analog cameras or did the analog part came later?

SM: It was exactly 4 years ago when I met my friend Gela Shekeladze (he works at Fotografia Gallery, where I go develop and scan my negatives). He was also new at film photography and I can say that he made me buy an analogue camera, which cost me only $25 at Dry Bridge Market in Tbilisi.

NM: When I arrived in Georgia in 2018, the first thing I started looking for was where to develop and buy films. Then I found Fotografia Gallery and discovered this big analog scene going in Tbilisi. Nino-Ana Samkharadze (manager of the gallery at the time) told me that it’s really common for beginners in photography in Georgia to start off using film and analog cameras because you can find very cheap cameras, is that true? How does it work there for you guys? In Brazil it is very difficult to have access to labs and film, if you live far away from São Paulo and the southeastern part of the country.

SM: When I started photography 4 years ago there were several spots where you could go and develop films, but getting a different variety of films was really hard. You could order it online or rather buy expired film for a cheap price at Dry Bridge (an open-air market, full of antiques, where you can still find film cameras at a good price).

Now we have 5 different labs to develop film. Also there are many people who are doing it by themselves, mostly B&W. Also online film camera shops are getting more and more popular and the price is the same as you can find on Ebay or it is cheaper than there.

And since Fotografia opened, we have had access to many different films. They are being sold too fast because there are many people who shoot on film now. We have a Facebook group for the Georgian film community and almost 3,500 people are there — this number is huge for Georgia. But we have these labs only in Tbilisi. In other parts of the country, people send films by post to develop them.

NM: When I look at your work, I sense a huge deal of delicacy and intimacy. It feels almost as if you were there photographing without the subject knowing of your presence. How does this work for you? How is your relationship with the models you photograph? Can you explain a little of how you bond with/direct the models that pose for you?

SM: I started doing nude photography 2 years ago. My main reason was the feeling that I always needed some excitement with the process of shooting. Working with analogue cameras is a separate excitement so I wanted to combine it with something special.


Today, I meet random strangers and photograph them. I always try to look happy and funny when I meet them, and try to act like I know them for long, even when I am not in the mood. I try not to stare at them to avoid awkwardness, I only look at them when I take photos and my eyes are always in the viewfinder.

In the very beginning, I felt really uncomfortable to ask them what to do but then I realized that if they come to me, they trust me and they are ready to be a part of what I am doing.

When I realized how to be comfortable with them, it was easier to connect strangers with each other. No one knew each other but in the process, we were trying to be like “close” people.

When I feel that they are tense because the pose is not comfortable for them, I try to recreate it and choose a different position, because when I see a result I always feel that atmosphere in a photo even if the face is not shown. Psychologically, I still know that something was not working at that moment.

NM: I have always noted how most of your work is done on black and white film. Is this aesthetic choice or it is just because BW film is easier to process? Do you develop your photos yourself or you send it over to someone? 

SM: I do really love working on B&W film. I still don’t know why but I feel better when I know that colour film is not inside my camera.

One of the points is that my sessions are spontaneous and I don’t know where I will be shooting so I try to avoid using colour film. It happens rarely that I plan what to do, and that I really want to change in future.

I think BW film is hard to shoot, the subject must look interesting, you don’t have the colours that mostly steal your eye. When a photo is in colour we can still regard it as “good” because of the colours or the light. But in BW it is a bit harder, there is mostly one subject that is prior. I do not develop them yet, but I try to improve my skills, I do really want to do everything by myself.

NM: Even your colour work feels to me very monochromatic. It seems like you plan very well how every single color will show up in the frame. How do you choose when to use color or black and white film?

SM: When I go outside somewhere into the woods, I always try to use colour film, because the light is great. To be honest I have never planned anything about colours, the only thing I can say is that I think too much until I shoot a single photo. I can change everything several times if I don’t like something because I always try to avoid corrections in photos and 90% of them are original as they are on the negative. Also, I want not to waste my film on something I know I won’t like when I see it.


NM: Where are the cool places to go in town if you like analog photography, to buy old cameras, develop films, etc? Do you have any interesting stories about any of these places? I’m making a lot of advertising to my friends, so they go visit Saqartvelo (Georgia in Georgian).

SM: The best place to explore many things, as I mentioned before, is the Dry Bridge Market. Here you can get lenses, camera bodies and many other things. Also Navtlughi bazaar, sometimes you can find good cameras that cost at most $5, they are just point and shoot but you still can have some fun with them.

Fotografia is the best place to buy film and Polaroid sheets, photo paper and accessories; anything you need for analogue photography. I have been going to Magnolia Film Lab since the start of my journey and they also have different types of scanning services.

NM: The majority of your work is portraiture, especially women. Do you think photographing people with film helps with your discipline? What I mean is, does it help planning the photographs better? Or are you the kind that never plans and just create based on what is happening in the moment?

SM: I can’t say my photography that it is planned, of course, the person knows that I will be shooting her but, the ideas come in my head in that moment. It is hard to plan something when you have no idea what awaits you. Thins only happens if I have something that I want to use in the photos, as it helps me to have sort of an idea of what I want to do.

NM: Does the fact that models can’t check the pictures on a screen on the camera help you bond with them?

SM: When I started doing this I had that question myself. I don’t know how but they have never had any trust issues about it. They know I won’t post anything without them, so I always show them photos first if there is something of their face included and ask them if it is okay to post.

At the same time, I never ask anyone to shoot so there is nothing that makes them think I need that photo for any bad reasons. Now having this problem is impossible, I have already worked with many different girls which means that to them, I am trustworthy.

NM: Finally, do you have any other Georgian photographers you can introduce to us? Especially if they work doing analog photography?  We would love to know more about Georgian artists!

SM: My very favourite female photographer — who is a leader in documentary photography — is Natela Grigalashvili. Her use of color and light are amazing and her photos will remind you of paintings.

I also love photos of Tina Kazakhishvili, she has a very good technique of photographing the naked body.

I really admire the photos of Vakho Khetaguri, he uses different materials to print his works. You can find some Polaroids in his gallery with other analogue photos.



Sofi has a very special way of dealing with the models and that is reflected in how calm and delicate they seem to be in the pictures. Somehow I have this feeling that she uses a “hidden” camera (even though it’s not true), such is the sensation of getting into someone’s secret intimacy I get from her pictures.

It is always good to see female photographers like Sofi doing this kind of work. I always felt like the feminine world was always shown through male eyes, and that seems to be changing in the world, with her being a part of this movement. Added to that, Georgia is a very special place and this adds more layers to her pictures, especially the landscapes. I hope you enjoyed learning more about her work, as I did.

~ Neto

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7 thoughts on “In Conversation With… Sofi Mdvinishvili: Tiblisi’s analogue photography scene (NSFW) – by Neto Macedo”

  1. This is an excellent article Neto – I appreciate the time and effort put into sharing it with everyone and getting a different perspective on photography. Sofi’s photographer suggestions are so wonderful. This makes me want to plan a trip to the Caucasus!

    Reply
  2. Great article! I’ve been following Sofi on Instagram for while and enjoy her work but it’s really refreshing to get to know her.

    Reply

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