Photographer Captures Cultures In Flux

British photographer George Georgiou (b. 1961), known for his muted cityscapes and intimate yet unobtrusive images of people, focuses on capturing places and cultures in transition. His portraits, too, often catch people balancing precariously in liminal areas, trapped in flux between conflicting beliefs or realities.

Born to Greek/Cypriot parents in England, Georgiou studied photography at the Polytechnic of Central London, where he received a BA degree. He now works as a freelance photographer and photojournalist, as well as teaching a number of workshops throughout Europe. He worked for several years in Greece, Serbia, and Eastern Europe, before turning his eye to Turkey.

George Georgiou settled in Istanbul for four years, immersing himself in the city, and its people and culture. His time there led him to create his best-known series of photographs: Fault Lines/Turkey/East/West, which epitomizes his fascination with the boundaries that people straddle. He arrived in Turkey at the time of the 2003 bombings, and that had a deep impact on his artistic interpretation of the country. He also saw the symbolic impact of the way modern housing blighted the Anatolian plateau.

As an outsider in the region, he witnessed internal conflicts acted out daily in Turkey — the constant warring of the past and the present, of religion and secularism — and showed these dichotomies as they were reflected in the new urban landscape and the people who inhabited it. His photographs portray a country at a crossroads, hesitating as it chooses its path.

The series is remarkable for its use of sky. Georgiou primarily worked in the muted light of spring and autumn, to avoid the overwhelming, dramatically bright blue skies that might otherwise overshadow his principal subjects. He wanted the sky, in its vastness, to be a character in the scene, but as a looming, distant presence rather than a dominant force.

More recently, Georgiou has been working in the Ukraine and Georgia on a series called In the Shadow of the Bear. This project examines how the Georgians and Ukrainians negotiate their delicate position in close proximity, physically and politically, to Russia.

In Fault Lines, and in much of Georgiou’s other work, images of people play a prominent role. However, the faces and figures are seldom posed. Instead, they have an immediate and accidental air, as if the photo had been composed, and then the subject stepped within the shot at the last moment.

Georgiou is sensitive to the manner in which a daunting lens can interfere with the naturalism of a human scene. People, he realized, behave differently when faced with a lens rather than an eye. The lens puts them in uncomfortable focus, like a deer in the sights of a hunter. To counter that, the photographer adopted a small camera with an articulated display that can be angled upward so the subject doesn’t feel so strongly that he is pinned by the intensity of a gaze. 

The artist began his career using black and white images, but later turned to color. He still favors a subdued palette that is congruent with his chosen subject matter.

Georgiou melds art and journalism with a documentary style of photography that is uniquely relevant to the modern world in flux. His art provides a glimpse into cultures on the verge of change, capturing them at the tipping point. 

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Article written by Cheryl Eastman.

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