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Americans Parade

Over the course of five trips to the US, George Georgiou photographed 26 parades while covering 13,000 miles across the country. Here are his thoughts about their significance:

"Three or four years ago, I was traveling around the United States, assisting my wife, Vanessa Winship, who was taking pictures for her book about contemporary America. That gave me a chance to get to know the country. My idea was to explore the politics of the road as a way of thinking about America's various segregations � not just racially but socially and economically as well. I visited various Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevards and Streets. But that was too complicated, and there were so few people walking around the streets. I felt like an alien. I think the emptiness, compared with what I'm used to in Europe, has to do with the lack of sidewalks, the lack of walking, the lack of public spaces and even the lack of public transportation. Those things bring people into the street, bring about communication. Except in large cities, the sidewalk hardly seems to be used in America. I'm moving around all these different neighbourhoods, but I don't see people. Everyone is in a car. It could be a Mexican neighbourhood or a black neighbourhood or a working-class neighbourhood or a middle-class neighbourhood. There's no real focal point that I could find. But I was still curious about what was happening in these areas.

Then, in Lafayette, Louisiana, I saw a parade for Martin Luther King's Birthday on a Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. The day before, no one was there. Now, so many people were out in front of their houses. A lot of barbecuing was going on, and suddenly you could see the community that exists there. Parades make the community visible to itself. In a lot of places, a community doesn't see itself - then you have that day when you can see people you haven't seen for ages.

And an outsider can see that community too and lose any prejudices of that neighbourhood.

In January 2016, I returned to the United States to start taking pictures of parades around the country. In New Orleans, I photographed six Mardi Gras events, the most parades in any place. On one day, I shot two that made me feel as though I were in two different countries. One was early in the morning, at 9am, just across the river from downtown, in Algiers, an African-American neighbourhood known for its musicians. Everyone on the floats was black, as opposed to all the others I went to, which generally had white people on the floats.

I was kind of expecting, maybe because of the music, a really mixed crowd to come out for this parade. A lot of black people came into the neighbourhood from outside, but I saw maybe only 20 white faces the whole time. I was really shocked, especially for New Orleans. The lunchtime crowd at the other parade, which went through the upper-class Garden District along what is, kind of, the main route for the biggest parades going into the French Quarter, was almost completely white.

The amount of things like beads and shoes thrown from floats into the crowds was 10 times as much as at the morning parade.

Two types of pictures are my favourites. I like the ones in which you have very small groups, four or five or six people - just a small family unit outside. These smaller parades are fascinating because you get to go into worlds you'd never have reason to stop in otherwise, unless you had a relative there. The only people who turn up are local. I also really like the very chaotic ones, from Thanksgiving in New York, from Coney Island, from the Mexican parades in Brownsville and Laredo - community portraits in which you get a lot of people in the same space all doing their own thing, all looking in different directions. They're disengaged from one another. These portraits of a community can show, I think, how a group of people can be together and not together at the same time."
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