Nikos Economopoulos’ early black and white work saw him photographing his native Greece and its neighbours, primarily focusing upon displaced and liminal groups – including refugees and the Roma. Following the fall of Yugoslavia, he photographed extensively in the Balkan Peninsula, creating work which won him the 1992 Mother Jones Award for Documentary Photography. It was later that the photographer became focused on making color work, revelling in the opportunities the medium offered: “Black and white transcends reality by removing a very significant part of it: the color. Its simplicity and deductive character allow for abstraction… Color is more realistic. To get the same outcome, the same contrasts and tensions, the same sense of intensity is more complicated… You need to engage other tools, like the quality of light and a sense of balance between colors.” Cuba was to become a focal point for his color work. The photographer was allured by the similarities he saw between southern Europe and Latin America: “As I kept going back, I realized that what actually inspired me was the interaction among its people, the ways in which they share and connect, creating spaces where one doesn’t feel like a stranger. This warmth is omnipresent…” In this image – one of his favourites made in Cuba – a “mystical space, a choreography of gestures and postures [is formed] around an object that is not present.”

Nikos Economopoulos was best known early in his career for his black and white work in Greece and the Balkans.

Having started his professional life as a journalist in his native Greece, Economopoulos only began taking photographs at the age of 25, inspired by the work of the Magnum Photos co-founder Henri Cartier-Bresson. In 1988 he began to take photographs in Greece and Turkey, before joining Magnum in 1990 and travelling extensively throughout Albania, Bulgaria, Romania and the former Yugoslavia. His work in the Balkans won him the 1992 Mother Jones Award for Documentary Photography.

Economopoulos continued to focus on Southern Europe and the Balkans throughout the 1990s, documenting the lives of the Roma community in Greece, communities living on the “Green Line” separating northern Cyprus into Greek and Turkish territory, and the mass migration of ethnic Albanians fleeing Kosovo.

In 2001 Economopoulos won the Abdi İpekçi Award for promoting friendship between Turkey and Greece. Of the tension between the two nations, he has written: “There are no real differences [between Greeks and Turks]. I love Turkey and I can live there. I can't live in Paris or in London, but Istanbul – I can live there.”

More recently Economopoulos has started worked in color, primarily in Latin America and Africa, with a particular focus on Cuba. The photographer was in the country over the weeks before the announcement that diplomatic relations with the USA would resume, having been severed in 1961 during the Cold War. He continued to produce work in the country for the next few years, including in 2016, when President Obama became the first American leader to visit Cuba since 1928. Economopoulos has been photographing in the nation since.

This photograph, taken in Havana in 2014, is from that series, which focuses on the backdrop of this global news story: the everyday lives of the Cuban people.

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