“Up until today, I had to fund all my work entirely on my own, and any sales to magazines would only happen after. Now, I’m going to be able to go back to the Ukraine and Georgia and to have the money to do it.”
George Georgiou has spent the last decade travelling the Balkans, eastern Europe and Turkey after he and his partner, fellow photographer Vanessa Winship, sold their flat in London “to fund a great adventure”. Having based themselves in Belgrade, and later settling in Istanbul, shooting in-depth stories there and in neighbouring countries, they came back to London two years ago, but have continued shooting projects in the region on extended return visits.
Now Georgiou will go back to Georgia and the Ukraine with £5000 in his pocket – courtesy of the last-ever, Nikon-sponsored, Project Assistance Award – to complete his latest series there, In the Shadow of the Bear.
He was selected from a shortlist of eight photographers who were, along with more than 40 others, published in BJP over the last 15 months of our weekly editions. The eight – including Dana Popa, CJ Clarke, Clare Smart, Kalpesh Lathigra, Liz Hingley, Sayaka Maruyama and Jude Edgington – were given £300 to put together a detailed proposal as to what they would do with the bursary.
Katy Barron, an independent photography curator who acted as the contest’s judge, then read through the proposals and selected Georgiou. “In light of what he has done before, I can see that he will make a fascinating series,” she comments. “I like the way he linked the two countries. There is a lyrical pattern, which makes the whole more than the some of its parts. It has a personal, but also a universal appeal. I hope this award will push him to the next level in his career.”
In the Shadow of the Bear evolved from a very different idea, Georgiou tells BJP. “The original goal was to look at the eastern revolutions. Having already covered Serbia, I wanted to look at Georgia and Ukraine. I wanted to use these three countries to show the aftermath of the peaceful ‘colour’ revolutions.” But, after spending time in Ukraine, the photographer perceived the strong influence Russia still plays in these former Soviet regions. “Russia continues to interfere in their affairs, the same way the US did in Central America.”
In his project proposal, Georgiou writes that a “major geopolitical battle is still being fought out in Ukraine and Georgia, in their nascent stages of independence and nation-building and as they try to free themselves from Russian influence. Russia sees both countries as part of its sphere of influence, and as such acts like an imperial power towards its smaller neighbours.”
In the Shadow of the Bear will explore life after the Rose Revolution of 2003 in Georgia, and the 2004 Ukrainian Orange Revolution. “The work looks, in subtle and quiet moments, at the signs in the domestic and public spheres, which when taken together, build up a representation of how ordinary people in Georgia and Ukraine negotiate the everyday space that they find themselves in,” he says. “I am looking at each country individually, with their own very different dynamics and characteristics, but also the aspects that are familiar between the two through their shared history in the Soviet Union.”
Georgiou has already shot many pictures in the series, but says: “Now I have to fine-tune it. I need to look at the signs and symbols and at Russia’s presence. I am now at the more complex and reflective stage of producing the photographs and visual links that will bridge the two nations together in the shadow of Russia.”
Over the summer he plans to go back to both countries to explore the Black Sea coast and study the large residential districts around Kiev and Tbilisi. He expects to finish the work in September before taking on the longer task of editing and designing a monograph.
Georgiou will present his work at this year’s Vision, BJP’s annual event for early-career photographers, which takes place at the Business Design Centre on 19 November.