Aussie photographer and filmmaker Tim Georgeson could be described as an enlightened, spiritually mature version of Ernest Hemingway. He’s a family man, an environmental advocate, artist, filmmaker and photojournalist. In his journey he’s won awards from National Geographic, crafted advertising campaigns and taken sniper fire in the Balkans. His sense of adventure is surpassed only by his compassion for this world’s inhabitants, whether they have two legs, four legs, wings or fins. He’s an environmentalist and a humanitarian who has, in his time, raised awareness about the defining humanitarian crises of our time.
His most recent film, Mystique Sequence, is a meditative visual poem about the ocean’s transcendent qualities. It’s no plot twist that our waters are under threat, choked with plastic and chemicals. In the face of that grim reality, however, it’s easy to forget the raw harmony and organic beauty of the world’s largest living creature: the sea.
CONVICTS recently caught up with Tim. Over some lemon waters, we got his take on the importance of self-education in the arts, the desire for adventure, his love of the ocean and openness to magic.
Hey Tim. Thanks for coming in. Could you start by introducing yourself?
My name is Tim Georgeson. I’m an Australian visual artist and filmmaker from Sydney. Currently based in Montreal, Canada.
So, big question here, but what led you into filmmaking and visual arts?
Well my background is not actually in film. My background is in photography. I grew up in a very artistic family on the northern beaches in Sydney. My father was a fairly well known environmental architect. My mother was a textile designer. My sister was a potter and an artist and my brother worked in the film industry.
Before we move on–what is environmental architecture?
So it’s all about sustainability. Also, very into minimalism. Very Zen. A lot of glass. With the weather in Australia and all the open spaces, we don’t have to worry about central heating. It’s a very tropical climate. So environmental architecture is really about designing spaces that flow and stay cool. Of course, it’s very centered on the ocean.
So did you initially go to school for photography?
No. I feel like the best school is to grab a camera and start traveling the world. Which is what I did. You can go to school to learn all sorts of technical things but at the end of the day it’s all about instinct. And I think that’s one of those things: you either have the instinct or you don’t. It’s not something you can learn in school.
How did you kick off your photography career?
I actually started off shooting a lot of architecture and fashion and stuff because of my family’s background. But then I went off to Africa on assignment. I went to shoot a piece for Doctors Without Borders on the Reconciliation in Rwanda.
Really, that was the switch for me. I travelled the world as a photojournalist shooting reportage around the world. All long-term projects, no spot news spots or anything like that.
Who were you working with?
I was shooting feature stories for National Geographic, The New York Times Magazine, Newsweek. I ended up moving to Paris with my wife and daughter. Paris Is the epicenter of photo journalism and I very good agent there. I worked a lot with French magazines but more to the point, it was a very central location for my work. I was shooting in the Caucasus, in the Balkans and in Africa. So I pursued that for many years. Had a lot of amazing experiences.
What were some of the wildest adventures you had out there?
They were all really interesting in very different ways. One of the more challenging ones, was right at the beginning. I was in Kosovo. I was in a valley photographing a town, Rutchik, that had been a massacred a few days beforehand.
And this is probably in the mid-nineties or so?
Yeah. I went back a few times and did follow up stories. On that particular occasion, I was, we were being shot at by the Serbian snipers in the hills. There’s not really that much you can do about that. So it was a really confronting situation that opened my eyes.
But you know after that I went back to Sydney and there I am having a having a surf and catching up with friends and then I just got this impulse, this trigger to go back and do another story. It’s hard to describe but it became very addictive. I love that kind of adrenaline you get going into the unknown.
Was that rush the primary driver for your photojournalism?
That drove me on one level. There were a lot of occasions where I was incredibly nervous but that also drove me to explore deeper, find better pictures and tell more stories.
Did you become a specialist in conflict journalism?
Oh, I wouldn’t say I was a conflict person. More post conflict, documenting humanitarian disasters. I was also being contracted by Greenpeace International to tell environmental stories about deforestation as well. It was a little overarching, but always focused on social documentary issues.
So how did you make the jump from photography to film?
There were a couple of layers to that. We moved from Paris to Amsterdam and were based in Amsterdam for about six years. After I won my first World Press Model Award and we fell in love with the place. So we moved there. I met a guy called Erik Kessels, who has a very famous ad agency called KesselsKramer and he had me shoot an advertising campaign in Holland. So that was the door for me I went through to do more advertising work.
Why did you make that switch?
I was pulling back on photojournalism as we were having another child. I was consciously transitioning. Not completely out of photojournalism but a mix of that and advertising campaigns.] I feel that my photography work has always been very cinematic and has a strong, emotional and aesthetic composition.So it’s really been in the last four years that I’ve really pushed my directing.
So you describe your work as sort of raw and emotionally constructed. Do you think that framework is that retrospectively applied to your impulses, or guide them in the first place?
It’s a good question. I think I’m a really very kind of instinctual and spontaneous person. So of course there’s a separation between shooting an advertising campaign that is much more conceptual, as opposed to a film like Mystique Sequence. That film really returns back again to my original concerns with social documentary and environmental issues.
So tell us a little bit about Mystique Sequence?
Jayma Cardoso has been incredibly supportive. We wanted to do something initially on the people Montauk. So we did. Ultimtaely, though, the project really transitioned a film that’s almost devoid of humanity but shows the rich tapestry of the place, where that particular geographical point allows the landscape and the ocean to fuse together.
What were you aiming to achieve with this film?
It’s very etherial. It aims to show the harmony between land and see. I’ve been working a lot with sound design. The sound design overlaid with Alan Watts–who’s our voiceover–felt like a pretty powerful combination. It reinforced the mystery of this visual journey.
Can you talk a little bit about your creative process for Mystique Sequence?
It was definitely thought out. This film really an environmental art form and it shouldn’t be…..You know I’ve got a story in my head, but I try to stay open for surprise and magic. A film like this shouldn’t be too scripted, otherwise you get forced into a corner.
This is a more abstract question, but what can film achieve that other creative mediums can’t achieve?
Well, photography is about capturing a moment and freezing it in time. Its role is to reinforce that moment, then obviously powerful. But with film, there is a rhythm and a motion that takes you on a visual journey.
Another hard question, can art like this still effect change in the world?
You know, I’m working on another project which is all to do with the recycling of ocean plastics. So I’m very aware of that and it’s very close to me because I grew up with the ocean and its my elixir. So you need to show what’s going on and what we’re doing to our planet. But I also believe that like with a film like Mystic Sequence, we want to show and show things that we either walk over or swim over. Things that most people don’t even take in: what’s underneath them as they’re swimming or the textures the landscape surrounding them. It’s important as a visual artist when you’re doing things in this genre to show the grace and beauty and power of this beautiful place. You want to remind people of that in addition to raising awareness about the birds and fish swallowing plastic. Otherwise it’s all too lopsided. You need to have both to actually drop the message.
Do you think that artists in general have a social obligation in their work? Basically, is there an ethical to promote a cause?
I think anyone creating something artistic has have some kind of responsibility. No matter what you are showing. Your work is being digested by lots of different people around the world. You have to hold responsibility for that.
So last question, why do you think spending time in nature is important?
Just being here in New York City, you know, you’re on your phone or your computer or even if you just step outside of your office door…there is just constant stimulation. Your body is just vibrating at a level that is not actually that healthy. I would advise everyone to go and take a hike. Go for a swim. Go for a surf. Get into places that are devoid of humanity. Just listen and feel.
There’s nothing better you know can do than go for bush walk where all you can hear is creatures, animals, birds. The sound of a waterfall. To take it in properly and turn your phone off and really disconnect–we should do on a regular basis to rebalance.
Hear you on that one. Thanks for chatting with us Tim, and best of luck with the film