CULTURE

Photographs of transportation

The white-haired man in the black suit is sitting in the half-light of a staircase corridor, exhaustion darkening his face, head bent, eyes closed. Daylight brightens the round window across from him, the only clue he is traveling on a ferryboat on a busy sea strait between east and west. In his repose, he defines the uneasiness of transit – of being neither here nor there, existing in flux, streamlined in time. This image of an Istanbul street vendor traveling the Bosporus, one in a series by British photographer George Georgiou, is part of an exhibit now showing until January 10 at a moody new gallery in the central Athens neighborhood of Exarchia. «Transport 2005» features the work of 12 photographers, including established documentarians such as Georgiou and his wife Vanessa Winship – both World Press Photo honorees – as well as emerging digital artists including Eva Darara and seasoned photojournalists such as Louisa Gouliamaki of Agence France-Presse, Milos Bicanski of Getty Images, and Nikos Pilos of ZUMA Press and Eleftherotypia’s E magazine. «By traveling, people find out about each other and themselves,» said Stefania Mizara, a Greek travel and documentary photographer who organized the exhibit in her basement, which she renovated last year into gallery space. «Some people accept their journeys, others resent it, but either way, travel changes them. We wanted to explore many aspects of transport in order to show why people travel, how it transforms them and how transport is viewed in our world.» Mizara got interested in transport as a visual metaphor two years ago, when she spent several months traveling through Africa with another photographer, Haralambos Giritziotis. She and Giritziotis were particularly intrigued by an ancient train between Dire Dawa and Djibouti, which took nearly 24 hours to travel just 340 kilometers. Over the course of the slow journey, Copts and Muslims shared seats, qat merchants stuffed the leafy narcotic in matronly bags and family-sized suitcases, and children peered out the windows of the century-old train, its exoskeleton pockmarked with bullets. «In the West, we have this concept of travel that we will leave somewhere at a certain time and arrive at a certain time, but this is not the case in certain parts of Africa,» Mizara said. «Travelers in Africa think in terms of if, not when: ‘I will get to that place if a bus actually leaves that day, if the tires don’t blow out, if we don’t encounter the odd elephant along the way.’ This acceptance of the journey’s unreliability intrigued me.» Her contribution to the «Transport 2005» exhibit was a series of images by herself and Giritziotis documenting aspects of the Dire Dawa-Djibouti train journey. The most striking image shows a young Coptic woman and an older Muslim man sitting on train benches facing each other. The young woman looks both wary and hopeful, a human metaphor for transit. Mizara wanted to explore the emotions aroused by transport. She contacted friends such as Georgiou and Winship as well as Bicanski and Gouliamaki (who are also married) and spread the word out to other photographers. The response, she says, was vigorous – and varied. «We got one photographer who wanted to make images of high heels, arguing that it was the transport of beautiful women,» Mizara said. Though the high heels didn’t make the cut, the explorations of transport which did show refreshing range. Darara, for instance, has placed cutouts of military vehicles on an incongruously girlish pink background, emphasizing the absurdity of a form of transportation essentially used for death. Bicanski photographed parking spaces in Istanbul, Kythera, Volos, Kavala and his native Belgrade to show how even an idle vehicle can grip the imagination, signaling both abandonment and escape. Pilos spent months with port workers in Piraeus, documenting the dangers of their job (stowing giant and heavy containers on ships, walking on thin iron planks between storage area and shipyard) to show the drama behind the journey of even an inanimate container of merchandise. Others mined the darker side of travel. Gouliamaki used a series of images she made during the war in Kosovo, recording the journey of its youngest refugees. One photo shows a family huddled together in the back of a truck. Another shows a child sitting at the wheel of a vehicle, a young NATO officer in the background. Another captures a little blonde girl peering around the corner of an abandoned warehouse, juxtaposed against an overturned and abandoned bus crisscrossed by lines of wet clothes. «I wanted to see how children traveled as refugees,» Gouliamaki explained. «I wanted to know how they reacted when they had to travel by force and live in areas that were essentially makeshift. Some actually lived in the cars they were traveling in, so they were always in transit.» Others, like Winship and Georgiou, explored places. Winship’s series included images from Black Sea harbors, while Georgiou explored the Bosporus in Istanbul, where he and Winship now live. The 30-kilometer-long strait separating Turkey’s European (Rumeli) and Asian (Anadolu) parts teems with activity: Kurdish street vendors selling their merchandise or sweet-spicy food, Western tourists indulging in mini-cruises, locals strolling through the parks and imperial pavilions of Yildiz Palace. «The Bosporus is like Central Park in New York,» said Georgiou. «It’s like the lungs of Istanbul, breathing all the journeys and the lives of everybody there.» Georgiou, who is of Cypriot heritage, says the emotional effect of transit – of never quite feeling at home – had appealed to him as a boy growing up in an immigrant family in London. He has traveled around the world on assignments for Panos Pictures and now the Corbis photo agency, including a 10-month stint in Greece, and discovered that journeys strengthen curiosity. He sees people on trains or buses or boats – sitting, looking at the whirling landscape outside their windows – and wonders where their thoughts are taking them. That’s how the street vendor on the Bosporus ferryboat caught his eye. The man was tired and defeated after a bad day on the job, worried about feeding his family. On the Bosporus, he was a man in transition, transforming from hope to regret. «It’s a look that could summarize a life,» Georgiou commented. «As you get older, you start thinking about your own life, what you’ve done in the past, on your journeys, and what it all means,» he said. «In this way, transit really is something universal.» Basement of 55 Mavromichali Street in Exarchia daily between the hours of 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. To January 10, 2006. For more information call 210.362.4856 or log on to www.uncut-pro.com/transport2005.htm.