Experience

George Georgiou: “My Work Shifts As I Learn More About the Place”

A documentary photographer from the UK, George Georgiou, held a closed master class in Kyiv Taras Shevchenko Museum on July 21, 2015. Bird In Flight attended and took notes about how he captured modernization in Turkey, studied public space through the bus window in London and after that came to shoot in Ukraine again.

George Georgiou, 54

Born in London. World Press Photo winner (2003 and 2005), Pictures of the Year International first prize winner in 2004. Had projects on Serbia, Greece, Turkey, Georgia and Ukraine.

In 1999, Vanessa and I (Ed.: Vanessa Winship is a documentary photographer and is married to George Georgiou) took this risk and sold our apartment in London (we were never been able to buy one again in London) and we used the money that we made to go to Serbia. I worked in the Kosovan-Serbian conflict for 3 years and with the Serbian part of the work I won the World Press prize.

In 2003, we moved to Istanbul and lived there for 5 years. In Kosovo, I was a black and white photographer, and everyone knew me as a b/w photographer. But the situation in Turkey wasn’t the same as in Kosovo emotionally. And I needed to find the right language to talk about things in Turkey.

There was tremendous change in Turkey while we were there. The country was trying to join the European Union. So I used to travel by car to the Turkish borders with Syria, Iran, Armenia, and Georgia, to document where the European borders would be if Turkey joined. I started to see changes in the landscape. All new cities were springing up and I started to be really fascinated with what the government was trying to create.


{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/georgegeorgiou_01.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “From «Fault Lines: Turkey/East/West» project.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/georgegeorgiou_02.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “From «Fault Lines: Turkey/East/West» project.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/georgegeorgiou_03.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “From «Fault Lines: Turkey/East/West» project.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/georgegeorgiou_04.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “From «Fault Lines: Turkey/East/West» project.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/georgegeorgiou_05.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “From «Fault Lines: Turkey/East/West» project.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/georgegeorgiou_07.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “From «Fault Lines: Turkey/East/West» project.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/georgegeorgiou_08.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “From «Fault Lines: Turkey/East/West» project.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/georgegeorgiou_09.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “From «Fault Lines: Turkey/East/West» project.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/georgegeorgiou_10.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “From «Fault Lines: Turkey/East/West» project.”}

This happens with all the work I do. It shifts as I learn more about the place. I didn’t want to get stuck just looking for the conflict and aftermath. I though Turkey was the country between the East and the West. What is East? And what is West? They use these words all the time. And even my own perception, if I was traveling from London to Istanbul, I felt like I was going to the East, if I was to the far East of Turkey, or in Georgia, and then moved towards Istanbul I felt like I was moving to the West.

I was showing this work in Algeria and people were like: Wow, we wish we had something like this. It was their dream of modernisation, whereas in England a lot of this architecture was a real disaster and they would knock it down.

I started to ask what kind of community is it designed for? In Turkey, people spend a lot of time on the street. They are scared being on their own. In Istanbul, the neighbourhood we lived in women came downstairs and washed carpets together. Now if you’re living in a 10-floor building, there is no way you are going to know your neighbours. So it is slowly going to be a break up of that sense of community.

I finished this work in 2008, when I first showed this work in Turkey, with some people being quite angry about my take. Young photographers from Turkey continue my work in other directions. Until that time nobody looked at Turkey in this way. Some people couldn’t believe it’s Turkey, because they have an oriental idea of the place. People there are modern, they do the same as everyone else.

I have never had any kind of problems. People look at you and then look away, just like in Ukraine.

I came to Kyiv in 2005. I spent a month in Ukraine. I thought about the revolution but nothing really changed. In Serbia, people were ready for the change, but the chance was missed. And in Ukraine there was the same.

When I was in Kyiv in the autumn, I decided instead of walking around the city, to get a bus and travel around the country. I shot people from the trains and buses. After the Orange Revolution, the western media was looking for the pictures of happy people, but this is what I saw – a little bit depressed. Travelling around the country I made some observations on Ukrainians and how they stand on the streets. I always look at public space and people’s gestures, movements in public space. I felt that in Ukraine people are really in their own space a lot. If I’m shooting in Ukraine people don’t look at me, they look away, they are suspicious. I wondered what it would be like in Istanbul. So, in January, I took a bus to Istanbul and saw it was very different. People stand very closely to one another, and they are okay with it. Once I was buying disks, and he was standing near to me. So near that I thought he is going to go in my pocket. But it was okay for him, it didn’t mean anything. He had another sense of space. And they are looking all the time. No one stands still.


{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/georgegeorgiou_002.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “From «Transit Ukraine: After the Revolution» project.”}


{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/georgegeorgiou_001.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “From «Transit Ukraine: After the Revolution» project.”}

In 2008, I decided to take a few random bus rides to see what London was like. It took me 5 years. Suddenly I just thought London was completely different story for me, because this is my city. Using bus windows I become invisible and documented people on the streets and tried to understand the public space. That’s how the idea of the Last Stop book came. It’s double-sided and it’s 18 meters long with photos on both sides.


{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/georgegeorgiou_11.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “From Last Stop project.”}

In this picture you can see the famous London rain and the black taxis. These kind of peaceful blurs and reflections and so on. It’s very aesthetic. I could have sold more prints this way. But for me content is most important in my work.



{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/georgegeorgiou_12.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “From Last Stop project.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/georgegeorgiou_13.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “From Last Stop project.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/georgegeorgiou_14.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “From Last Stop project.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/georgegeorgiou_15.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “From Last Stop project.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/georgegeorgiou_16.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “From Last Stop project.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/georgegeorgiou_17.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “From Last Stop project.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/georgegeorgiou_18.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “From Last Stop project.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/georgegeorgiou_19.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “From Last Stop project.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/georgegeorgiou_20.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “From Last Stop project.”}

When we are moving through the city we are constantly seeing soap operas, mini-soap operas, little micro-dramas that we kind of look at and we can’t really know what’s going on. So you don’t really know what’s happening there, so you kind of make up a story and we kind of do that all the time. It’s a little bit like when you see an accident on the highway, but traffic can move. And all you can do is turn your head and imagine the damage that is done to the person.

Capturing these type of moments when you sit on the bus is really difficult, because the bus is moving. So many times I saw something really amazing over there and I couldn’t take a picture.

I have never had any kind of problems. People look at you and then look away, just like in Ukraine. Once policemen saw me shooting in the bus and they started to question me and quoting antiterrorist laws. We were in East London and had a conversation about if I was a terrorist it, and it would be better to take a tourist bus where there is no glass.


I started to work in Georgia in 2003 and in Ukraine in 2004, but mostly in Crimea and Odessa. I thought it would be interesting for me to show the post-revolution country. Very quickly I started to learn about Russia in this entire region as well. Then the work became the Shadow of The Bear.

Georgians have a very distinctive long history and extremely strong feeling of themselves. They really went back to their history and heritage. They had very strong battle with Russia. Ukraine is much more complex. It has a cultural and language mix with Russian. I came back to draw that conclusion, to see, what has changed.


{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/georgegeorgiou_21.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “From The Shadow of the Bear project.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/georgegeorgiou_22.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “From The Shadow of the Bear project.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/georgegeorgiou_24.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “From The Shadow of the Bear project.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/georgegeorgiou_25.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “From The Shadow of the Bear project.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/georgegeorgiou_26.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “From The Shadow of the Bear project.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/georgegeorgiou_27.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “From The Shadow of the Bear project.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/georgegeorgiou_28.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “From The Shadow of the Bear project.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/georgegeorgiou_29.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “From The Shadow of the Bear project.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/georgegeorgiou_30.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “From The Shadow of the Bear project.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/georgegeorgiou_31.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “From The Shadow of the Bear project.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/georgegeorgiou_32.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “From The Shadow of the Bear project.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/georgegeorgiou_33.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “From The Shadow of the Bear project.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/georgegeorgiou_34.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “From The Shadow of the Bear project.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/georgegeorgiou_35.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “From The Shadow of the Bear project.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/georgegeorgiou_36.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “From The Shadow of the Bear project.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/georgegeorgiou_38.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “From The Shadow of the Bear project.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/georgegeorgiou_39.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “From The Shadow of the Bear project.”}

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