George Awde is Assistant Professor of Photography at Virginia Commonwealth University in Doha, Qatar and co-director of marra.tein, a residency and research initiative in Beirut. Hosting researchers, artists, writers and musicians this space is not about photography rather than the conversations that happens in different ways. Being interested in many artistic media, Awde believes that this space works when people exchange ideas and views. We had the pleasure to talk with Awde during his visit to Kuwait for his exhibition at Sultan Gallery. The exhibition continues until January the 5th, 2017.
Tell us a little bit about you; how long have you been a photographer?
I got my Bachelor Degree in painting yet I became drawn to photography. I am Lebanese born in the United States of America; I finished college and university there and then decided to leave. I left to Yemen then Beirut and what’s interesting in the world of photography is that I got the chance to discover all those places.
I am basically a shy person and the camera gave me an excuse to be more adventurous, to meet people, and start relationships with them. And when you decide to photograph people over the years it forces to enter in long term relation with them. And the photography I practice is a good medium for that.
What sort of work do you specialize in?
Photos of these boys are very important as they start their journey to become men and try to craft their identity, this activation of people protesting in the streets to claim ownership over their country and that’s when I have decided to start photographing the boys. It was by accident and then I continued photographing them over time. So, the pictures you see are of the same boys over 5 years.
The boys and their journey away from their country, the main characters of this exhibition are the three boys. The other photographs take you through the city, a lot of my work goes with this idea of belonging, home, being separated… so the city is just as important as the body in the work, and in most of the photographs you see the setting of the stage through the landscape.
What type of cameras do you shoot with?
The photographs of the Still Departures series are shot with a large format camera known as the view camera or 4×5 camera, it’s the one you go under a blanket and has an accordion. It’s kind of amazing as I am also interested in processing the pictures. Some of my new works are shot with different cameras including Polaroid cameras shooting instant films.
So, basically I am attached to the physicality of the film, processing the film. These photographs have a specific look because I use that camera. I can take up to half an hour to take one photo. The camera is on the tripod and I am under the blanket when I set up everything and put the film I can no longer look to the camera because I am standing next to it and having a direct eye contact with the person I am photographing, nothing comes between us.
What inspired your Still Departures series?
That’s a complicated question! I guess what is important for me is that I worked on a body of work for a long time. I started photographing in Beirut in 2006 and from the scene of the photographs I took I am still basically building on the same kind of ideas and threads of that work.
That what makes photographing the boys interesting; they grow up so fast, with physical marks and physical aspects that change about people, and so does the art; it changes with people as they age and specifically with the boys the change is so drastic which makes us talk about the passage of time which is something I am interested in. I am also interested in the spaces I photograph because they are kind of in the margin and no effort is made to fix them, but will turn into a project later, like a park or a building.
What gives you ideas and inspires you to create such great imagery?
Another intense question! In terms of my own work I am interested in different investigations, people’s relationship to themselves, to a place, and my interest in getting to know people and spending time with them. I think it is important to know the people in this work I am running, people who are basically marginalized and invisible in a lot of ways. My collaboration with them is very precious and I don’t feel I am representing them; this work is much about my interest, my desires, my worldviews, and me.
When I work with those people there is this collaboration that happens back and forth over years, so even when they assume to be reading me when framing my photos, they start to pose spontaneously without me asking them to do so.