Contemporary Georgian art is no longer afraid of homophobic environment. In recent years, many queer artists have become more active, trying to portray and empower LGBTQ+ people with their creativity. Art can play a huge role in defeating homophobia and help to portray queer people from various angles that are usually either covered up or misinterpreted by the state, church, and radical groups.
Here’s an interview with a beginner photographer Butu Bilikhodze (@kaonashi_i), whose first homoerotic photo project LONELY BOYS PARADISE was created to strengthen the queer community and show the vulnerability of the male body.
What were your first steps into photography like?
I first bought a camera in 2009, it was an old, very low-quality Soviet film camera. This is when my friendship with a camera began. I always liked to take photos of people. The first steps were more about entertainment, I liked the chemistry and character that film camera has. I did try digital format too, but I didn’t really like it so I soon sold the camera. I didn’t take photos for a bit due to a worldwide shortage of film. I have been more actively engaged in it in the past 2-3 years, I have a few cameras of different formats.
What helped you the most in shaping your vision?
I have been interested in homoeroticism for the last few years. I shoot male bodies. I’m not sure what’s causing that. I have a lot of good photographer friends both in Georgia and abroad, maybe they also played a role. Years ago I was a model myself, hired by very talented and successful Georgian and non-Georgian photographers. From that moment on, I wanted to be on the other side of the camera, taking photos. I was actively looking through homoerotic images. I took it for the first time with a friend, very spontaneously and when I saw the photos I realized that’s what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m supposed to be taking photos of naked boys.
What do you think Georgian queer photography is lacking the most?
I wish there was more courage and more openness in queer photography. Georgian society is very small and this is a new topic, but I expect that there will be more positive steps within the community. I often find it hard to get models to shoot, they don’t want their face to be visible. But there are people who do not care about this, which makes me happy and makes me think that more attitudes are changing and we will live in a more open society in a few years.
How did the idea for Lonely Boys Paradise come into being and who are the people behind your camera lens?
The idea of my first, and currently only project came to me when I was taking photos of my friends completely spontaneously, a beautiful song was playing in the background and I heard this name in the lyrics.
Models are often my friends, acquaintances, ordinary people from Instagram. The project has its own character: beautiful, normal, and sad boys, that feel lonely. They live, walk, study, have friends but still feel abandoned. I want to show this sad world through light and delicate shots.
What messages are you sending to Georgian queer society with this photo series?
My main message and goal is to show people interested in photography the beauty of a man’s body, the tenderness that a man’s body has that everyone tries to hide. I want the society to have more acceptance towards bodies and to be able to get aesthetic pleasure from our or another person’s naked body, it is very beautiful. More courage and fortitude is needed.
Georgia is considered a homophobic country, so it is very difficult to photograph homoeroticism, find a model and explain it to them. However, I seem to be like and I often shoot boys, often as their faces are not visible, but still. With the help of these photos and others, I am in search of myself and I also try to help others to find themselves. That is why I want to dedicate this article to all the boys who are on the path of discovering their own bodies, looking for their own way, their own voice and their own opportunities in Georgia or abroad. You are not alone!
What should we be expecting in the future from you?
Right now I am working on a few topics which I will be starting in the nearest future. The theme is still homoeroticism and male nudity. I am interested in 70-80 gay aesthetics. I really like it and I want to be around this kind of chemistry.
Some foreign queer blogs are texting me for collaboration. I will not hesitate to say that there are certain things that I want to study more thoroughly, both the technical side and the substantive one.