Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, is still one of the many places in the world that does not accept homosexuality. The Orthodox Church remains to be a superior power and the conservative majority often disapproves of alternate lifestyles. It’s a subject that has interested Piet Oosterbeek for a while now, and in a new documentary series, he captures a twofold story about the young people of Tbilisi.
“The appearance of these Tbilisi youths is an act of resistance against the church and prevailing conservative norms and values in their country,” says the Dutch photographer of the series’ subjects. Photographing seemingly small gestures – dyed hair or piercings – he hints to the expressive undercurrents bubbling up through Georgian youth, in turn, revealing their stories in the evocative photography series.
Since 2008, the Amsterdam-based photographer has centred his practice on themes of identity, particularly those speaking out over the established order. It’s an exploration that has seeped into his personal life, questioning his own literal and figurative place in the world, which has led him to position an inquisitive lens to each and every shot he captures. Through a mixture of striking portraits and landscapes, he reveals a nuanced narrative to the people and the structural environment of Tbilisi. In turn, juxtaposing and speaking out against the sociopolitical climate that the photographed youngsters grew up surrounded by.
Before he ventured in the realms of photography, however, Piet was a budding graphic designer, having become impassioned by the medium through graffiti. But during his studies, he came into contact with photography and found a freedom of expression through the communication of images. “With photography,” he tells us, “just like with graffiti, I could say what I stood for without talking. This was, and still is, a good medium for me. It’s a necessary feeling which motives me to make work, even though I don’t stutter that much anymore,” he adds of his previous linguistic issues.