Photography by
Photography by Georg Gatsas

Georg Gatsas – Exploring Cities Through Portraiture

The work of Swiss photographer Georg Gatsas has been published by magazines such as Wire, Dazed, i-D and Beat. Georg has been operating between London and Zurich for the past couple of years. He recently spent some time in Johannesburg as part of an artist residency organized by Pro Helvetia. I caught up with him to find out about his work and his time in SA.

Georg shot his first series called “The Process” (2002-2007) in New York which ended up in several exhibitions, magazines and publications. Currently, he mainly works as an analogue photographer. Shooting on film has allowed him to develop a particular attitude towards the shots he takes. Thinking about the cost of film rolls and that each closing of the shutter has a feeling of finality to it, Georg tries to focus and capture the right moment, taking less shots than he would with a digital camera. And often he finds it easier to carry around an analogue camera. In mentioning his creative process, Georg emphasized how he enjoys working organically and tries not to force any part of his work.

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Georg’s first series were mainly portraits of musicians, visual artists, performance artists and designers which he shot at night. The people he was shooting were living mostly parallel to mainstream society; they had created their own hub. Through taking their portraits he got into their sleeping rhythms and started shooting nighttime streetscapes  and the environment of the people in his portraits. The combination of these pictures became a portrayal of New York City and particular kinds of people who lived there. While residing in London for an exhibition in 2008, he started shooting the UK base music scene, which over an eight-year period has developed into a series called “Signal The Future”.”The portraits as part of the series become a portrayal of a certain environment, but also of the times we live in.” Georg explained that his work can be looked at in different ways, bringing to the fore questions on global sound, migration politics, cultural production in a hyper-capitalist city such as London, new aesthetics, new instruments of the underground, and how the mainstream reacts to it.

Having only spent time in Europe and the States before, he was initially quite thrown by the different rhythms and ways of being in Johannesburg. But soon his desire to learn about the flow of the city became stronger. His photographs from SA will follow a similar creative starting point to his previous work – capturing artists best representing their city. He has been photographing some of South Africa’s most interesting producers, musicians, artists and performers of 2016, including Fela Gucci, Mante Ribane and Dear Ribane, DJ Lag, DJ Doowap and Moonchild Sanelly. In his comment on how he selected people to photograph he explained that “it has to be a fan boy thing. So I am first of all a fan [of their work].” He explained that his choices were based on people doing important work, but work that was not quite defined yet. “I don’t like defined stuff. I like surprises…I like when people try out new things, things that move forward.”The photographs from Georg’s Johannesburg series will also be linked and combined with the images from his previous series as some of the artists in all these series know each other personally, are communicating and collaborating with each other.

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Georg’s experiences in Johannesburg and the people he has met have influenced the way in which he thinks about his work. “I have learned a lot politically, work wise, rhythmically. And a lot on the history of photography coming out of Africa and South Africa which is heavy, complex and difficult.”

Georg will be back in April for the second part of his residency. His first solo museum exhibition will take place at the Kunstmuseum St. Gallen in Switzerland in November 2017, and parts of it will hopefully lead into partnership exhibitions in London and Johannesburg.

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