By: Eric Zdancewicz
You might remember Kyler Zeleny from his ongoing Found Polaroids project, which has become a successful collaboration between writers, photographers and academics from around the world.
In his newest project, he has teamed up with Russian photographer Yanina Shevchenko to create Georgia Georgia, a linking of two geographies to create a unified place that doesn’t exist.
The Georgia that Yanina has photographed is the former Soviet country located at the eastern end of the Black Sea.
The Georgia that Kyler has photographed is the southern U.S. state.
The collaboration began with Yanina taking photos around three broad categories that had been given to her by Kyler: people, landscape and the human built environment. When Kyler travelled down south, he built upon the images by finding similar subjects and identifying ‘poetic connections’ he found in Yanina’s photos.
“As a conceptual project, it aims to challenge the viewer’s understanding of place and placelessness, explored through the photographers’ collective approach.”
“The images are presented as a set of diptychs that capture the very obvious and apparent differences as well as the unexpected similarities.”
Could you tell the readers a little bit about yourselves and your respective practices?
Y: I was born in Russia, but currently live in Barcelona, Spain. In 2012 I completed MA Photography and Urban Cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London. That is where I met Kyler and from there the idea for our collaboration was born.
K: I grew up in rural Canada, but currently live in Toronto, Canada. Like Yanina I studied in London and currently work at York University and am working towards completing my PhD at York & Ryerson Universities. I try my best to edge out visual projects when I have the time. My dissertation work is focused on integrating photography and writing.
How did this project materialize?
K: There is some debate over that. Yanina and I both playfully take credit for the idea behind the project. For myself, I like the idea of collaborations, I like the potential that working with others can afford. Yanina and I also work in similar ways (around issues of representation, space and place). I hold strong that I came up with the idea and proposed it to her. I was telling her about the movie Paris, Texas and the idea of how name places can be misleading. I really liked the idea of this ‘other’ Paris that exists in America and then I started to think about other name associations and how that could be the base for an experimental collaboration. There is nothing special between the two Georgias, no grand connection (a lose religious one, but nothing more). It is meant to be playful and to push the photographers into boxes they are uncomfortable being in.
What was the biggest challenge in this collaboration?
Y: Time frames. We both have busy schedules, so to complete the project took much longer than we expected.
What were some of the other poetic connections you (Kyler) found in Yanina’s photographs?
K: After looking at Yanina’s images I made a list and then tried to locate the image that would correspond or create a visual connection. Going back to the notebook here are some of my favorites, some of which I was able to create an image for and others that remain unfilled.
Fat man on seaside boulevard, beach goers, in the presence of the mountain, the lone tree, the roadside advertisement, the dog, lines that string across the landscape, dead or relaxing, red bus in the green, hiding in the woods, lonely items in the landscape.
Were you both confident that you would find similar subjects to photograph?
Y: No and that was the most interesting part. We didn’t know what to expect, because neither of us has been to the areas we photographed. That is why the themes we wanted to focus on were very broad. When you do a project like this I think it is important to be flexible and let the situation guide the process. My part was much more open to change than Kyler’s though, because I went to Georgia first. Kyler had to build on the content I have created already.
What was the process of pairing the images together after both you and Yanina were finished photographing? Were there any disagreements about what should be paired?
K: An observer of our process might say Yanina and I bickered over image sets but that’s part of our creative practice. We each went through the images and tried to make connections, we each made connections that surprised the other. And then we cut the ones we didn’t think were strong enough or ‘poetic’ enough.
Y: We really had fun pairing the images. I think that was the time when we felt the strongest that this is a collaboration and not independent projects.
Who/what are your main influences for this project?
Y: We didn’t really have any. We have similar interests in photography so we decided to do a project together. Georgia Georgia was, first of all, an experiment. I think it worked out well.
Can you tell us anything about the project that only the two of you would know?
K: Part of the engagement the viewer should have with the images is to guess their origin—nation state or American state. Only Yanina and I know for sure. We did an artist talk last September in New York and it was interesting to see how people guessed. Perhaps there is a latent critique of photography as a medium that accurately represents events and places. The project is about intersecting the truth telling ability of photography with the common and often mislead notions we have of particular places, whether that is a former Soviet satellite state or the American South. Globalization also fits into this equation but that is boring to talk about.
Georgia Georgia will be showing at Latitude 53 Contemporary Art Gallery in Edmonton from May 13 to June 18.
Check out more of Kyler and Yanina’s work below: