SALWAN GEORGES’S FAMILY fled Iraq in the ’90s for Syria,
then emigrated to the U.S. in 2004, when he was 12 years old.
“I went through the hardship of being a refugee twice, and
I wanted to express my experience and feelings but I didn’t
know how,” he says. He eventually ended up at Oakland
Community College, where he signed up for a class taught by
Rob Kangas. For his first assignment, Georges took pictures
in a coffeehouse that his father frequented with other Iraqi
refugees, playing cards and talking about their lives.
Kangas was impressed, Georges says. “He said, ‘I haven’t
seen this community in America. We can’t just walk in, but
you have access.’ And I thought, ‘This is really cool.’” He began
imagining a career as a photojournalist. While he was pursuing
a journalism degree, Muslim extremists killed one of his
cousins back in Iraq. Georges’s shock and anger inspired
him to start photographing the growing Muslim community
“I wanted to show what it takes to come here” as a refugee,
Georges says. “As I photograph refugees, in every photo,
I see myself and my family’s story.”
He graduated in May 2015, took an internship at the
Detroit Free Press, and started reaching out to photographers
and photo editors by email. That led to assignments from The
New York Times and Washington Post to photograph stories
about Detroit’s failing public schools, the water crisis in Flint,
Michigan and other topics. It also led to a staff position at
the Detroit Free Press, and invitations to the Eddie Adams
Workshop and VII Agency workshop.
Last year, he was one of 15 photographers accepted
into the three-year Visual Storytelling & Documentary
Photography Projects mentorship program organized by
James Estrin and Ed Kashi.
“He’s technically really strong,” Kashi says of Georges.
“But more than that, he has a real sensitivity to the subject.
He’s a natural born storyteller and he yearns to push himself.
I’m taken by his aspiration, and his drive and his talent.”
Oakland Community College, Royal Oak,
Michigan; Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan
Detroit Free Press, Washington Post, The New York Times
Arab American National Museum, Dearborn, Michigan;
A. Alfred Taubman Center for Design Education, Detroit; Detroit Artists
Market; The Scarab Club, Detroit; Hatch Art Gallery, Hamtramck, Michigan
Associated Press, Michigan, Best Feature Photo 2016
“I once shared with John Stanmeyer that his work inspires me,
and he replied: ‘Inspiration has to come from within. From messages told to us in
the wind. Expression from a tree. Felt in our hearts. Eyes. Simply through being.
The mistakes will never end, [and] therein rests your potential.’”