Melancholia on a hill, a village given back to nature. The village offers nothing, the young would rather scrawl swastikas on the walls of smoggy cities in a country where only the white are welcome.
Forlorn and soon to be forgotten, only the earth is fertile.
Words and pictures from a village in Bulgaria, the fastest shrinking country in the world.
Abandoned houses, farms and villages dot the beautiful Bulgarian countryside. Village life no longer offers opportunity it seems except for the fool hardy and forgotten and perhaps those intrepid enough to bring it back to life.
My exhibition Syrians Unknown is still on display at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford should anyone be passing – previous blog post : Syrians Unknown
In breaking social media news my Instagram page is undergoing something of a renovation, for now it will devoted to street photography from Istanbul where I should also be offering workshops and tours of the seedier backstreets. Just glance to your right hand side to see the link along with my Twitter feed.
Your valued and continued support is much appreciated and should you want to treat me to a much needed cup of coffee just click on this easy to follow page 🙂
Street photography is a passion of mine, as a young whipper snapper the work of the imperial Henri Cartier Bresson’s Paris was as mesmerizing as it was inspiring, William Klein’s grainy edgy New York and the now so familiar images of Istanbul made by Ara Guller, actually it’s a long list but am not getting into a roll call of photographic superstars, occasionally I can’t help thinking that somehow 1950’s New York or Paris of the ’30’s gives any photographer an edge, Istanbul still has some incredible locations but the modern world with its mass of visual pollution in the guise of capitalistic advertising giving the impression of an explosion in a paint factory means that while Ara still sits drinking his coffee in his Istanbul cafe his city has largely disappeared.
My first real attempt at producing a body of work defined as street photography was in Cairo, ( Cairo Time & Tramlines ) in a teeming city of gazillion people it offered almost overwhelming options, I had to make some rules and limited my project to a set radius of the old Fatimid walls, for a boy who had spent more time in the meadows of the Thames than the city the excitement and exotic was a heady creative cocktail. Much later Istanbul (Istanbul Street Photography ) provided the never-ending urban landscape populated with twenty million potential subjects, some may say it’s like shooting fish in a barrel, perhaps not quite but these cities do provide an engaging backdrop in which to set the characters of endless opportunity and drama limited only by the soles wearing from your shoes.
Moving to Sofia in Bulgaria at the start of the year was an exciting new opportunity to discover a new country, a new city, using street photography as a tool to explore, discover and learn, you pay more attention, you take things slower, you pick out the details, I can’t stress the non-photographic benefits enough.
Now I need to choose my words carefully here; for those that know Sofia and those from Sofia we can agree it’s not a screaming mega city, it has the population of a neighborhood of Istanbul, its gentle, its calm, its green, its empty. For a street photographer it’s a challenge.
The challenge this time was to create a body of work that is not simply a street shot image but one that conveys a sense location, with each location a unique history and culture, I do get a little bored of random images that say very little, technology now allows us to snap with stealth but still it’s no excuse for meaningless images, and since you have asked, I have no preference when it comes to technology but a DSLR is my workhorse and despite its clumsy and noisy attributes serves me well enough.
So here we are then a selection of street shot images of Sofia, a city of undeniable charm, hopefully they will appeal to the more critical Bulgarians amongst us too.
Anyone interested in a personal Street Photography Workshop in Sofia, Cairo or Istanbul drop me an email, I am also preparing on-line mentoring classes for those interested.
Connect on my personal FACEBOOK page for recent shenanigans
Despite having grown up in the countryside I have never really had much of an affinity for it; as a child I learned the names of trees and grass, I learned to swim in the river a couple of miles along the track, I fished it too or at least I sat and stared at the ripples and bobbing float until my thermos of tea went cold.
Ultimately, I was bored and wanted away the first chance I got, village life rarely offers a teenager much and cannot compete with sordid appeal of the city.
So, it’s odd how now I am finding myself searching for the sanctuary of nature, as a photographer I had never really shot landscapes as such and yet here I am up to my arse in brambles.
It all started a couple of years ago, I arrived in Istanbul somewhat damaged by the war in Syria, bouts of PTSD interfered with my sleep, bankrupt financially and mentally, I had plenty to keep myself occupied with. trying to repair the mess I had caused myself from making the decision to stay in Syria when the war started but there where times when the city was too much for me, people were too much for me, as a photographer who has always tried to focus on people this became a concern, its easy to hide in a city of near on twenty million but its hard to be alone.
A bus from a stop close to Taksim would trundle along the shore of the Bosphorus and eventually wind its way up through wooded hills to Bahçeköy on the edge of the Belgrad Forest, fat street dogs lounge on the pavement of the sleepy village, with my headphones still plugged into my head I strode through the village and into the forest, like the city boy I had become even my Nikon was still at home.
A few minutes into the woods I stopped; looked up and unplugged my music and suddenly I could hear the peacefulness, bird song and the rustle of leaves fused, the creak of swaying branches and something or other scuttling in the undergrowth.
My next visit would follow very quickly and this time a bag with a camera and supplies enough to explore the wilderness on the edge of the megacity. I hardly shot an image, mostly I sat on tree stumps and pondered the Fungi, this though really did seem the point, it was not an assignment or project it was escape, I let the forest wash over me and from time to time I spotted order in the chaos and made a picture.
Rising with the lark has always been a challenge I’d failed miserably at, going to bed with the lark a farm more appealing proposition, somehow I managed to wake and set off in the darkness motivated entirely by caffeine, the dawn ferry would leave the European shore of the Bosphorus and sleepily sail to the Princess Islands, an hour into the sea of Mamara, the early boats usually empty and only those working on the Islands or making deliveries would be sipping tea and smoking on the chilly deck.
Alone with just the horses that roam Kinaliada I switched from sitting on tree stumps for the granite like rocks that tumble into the sea, my face damp from a mixture of rain and spray, somedays the wind would be biting cold and my fingers hardly able move the shutter dial, the colder my skin the more alive I felt, the longer I stand with my tripod the more I feel part of the landscape, I shot precious little on these visits, a couple of printable images exceptional, the time it takes far more valuable.
Now living in Sofia, the city is dominated by Vitosha mountain, it sits with patriarchal confidence at the end of every street, snow capped or shrouded in dark mist its alluring and intimidating in equal measure.
At 6am on the 6th June I woke without alarm other than the fact it was my birthday and without hesitation I shouldered my pack and took the bus as far as it would go. The early morning sunshine was warm and I struggled the first steep paths, without map or app I just climbed and occasionally deviating into a shaded glade, bathing in natures forest bath, slowly the weather cooled and changed, rain began hitting the leaves and dripping through the canopy, cool and fresh I felt energized and continued up, somewhere on this mountain was a waterfall and it would make the perfect destination but I had no idea where it was.
My legs were beginning to remind me it was my birthday, I had reached something of a summit, a neighboring peak slightly higher, the pine trees were missing branches and many were laying like battle field corpses, the clouds were now on my shoulders, the sky rumbled and flashed and the heavens opened, the Pines offered little shelter, the rain became bullet like hail stones, the sound of the thunder reminiscent of the reasons that drove me to the forest in the first place, But now I was awake not sleeping, the forest so dark now only the lightening illuminating the silhouetted shapes of trees, I gave myself entirely to the storm, soaking not only the rain but the sound and fear.
Storms inevitably pass.
The Six Set.
To mark this moment I have made a selection of images available as limited editions;
Six Inch image printed on beautiful Hahnemühle fine art paper signed and limited to editions of Six
Only 66 Euros per print
The images have a lovely tone and texture which seems a little lost on screen.
Payment via PayPal is perfect PayPal Payment Here Mail me for any further details or use email@example.com via PayPal whichever seems to work. Thank you.
Connect on my personal FACEBOOK page for recent shenanigans
I arrived in Sofia just as the year was ending, my life in luggage I could carry, another blank page ahead of me, I knew only one person, Iva, a host on Couchsurfing who had kindly offered to host me, I rarely surf couches but the offer was timely and genuine.
Over wine and Banitsa we chatted into the early hours about art, life and travel, you really must meet Rossitza Iva had implored, and, disregarding the late hour our meeting had been arranged for the party the following night ushering in the new year.
Well after the apocalyptical impromptu firework display had finished terrifying me and the neighborhood dogs Rossitza made her fashionably late entrance.
From Andalusia to the Orient is a project with EU funding that Dr. Rossitza Ohridska-Olson had been busy creating in Bulgaria, discussing and celebrating the interaction of the shared cultures of Europe and the East, quickly we found common ground and before dawn had broken on the new year we had discussed the possibility of me taking part in the evolving exhibition.
It may come as something of a surprise to some but things can move pretty quickly in Bulgaria, soon after our initial meeting we traveled to the small town of Samokov an hour or so drive from Sofia, the town better known for winter sports has a rich history of art and culture, there we met with Vesselin Hadjiangelov the director of the beautiful museum of history, from Andalusia to the Orient had already arrived in Samokov and was on display in the prettiest of Ottoman mosques, it was soon agreed I would also take part.
A flurry of activity followed, images were selected and edited, printers were harangued and Rossitza worked through several nights on the design, layout of the hanging panels and accompanying text, it all seemed slightly unrealistic to achieve and yet, on a cold night in Samakov the results were hanging and guests sipping wine.
The images were hung as a labyrinth, a confusing journey of contrasts and misconceptions, the hanging panels were cut with hexagonal windows allowing just a glimpse into another world.
The first six weeks of life in Bulgaria have been very inspiring, the warmth and hospitality unrivaled, I feel very blessed to have met such lovely people.
Am now just about to leave on an exciting road trip so please stay tuned for more images and silly stories, sign up for email updates in the box to the right and below, social media junkies I am all over the web so lets connect and if anybody wants to help with next months rent then buying a print will help tremendously.
A grey and grumpy Vitosha mountain stared down at me as I made my way along the wide scruffy boulevards of downtown Sofia, cobbled streets and tram lines glistening with a smattering of winter rain, the commies had gone but their heritage remains, a snub-nosed ageing tram proof of Sofia’s charming Soviet past, eager to explore a new city and a new country I set off with expectant stride, what had the Russians done for us I thought as I set out to discover.
I found myself strolling through a pretty park and through the naked trees I spotted the golden balls of the Russian church, its steeple thrusting into the moist evening sky, officially named after the patron saint of the last ruling Russian Czar, who by all accounts was a complete asshole, not though Saint Nicolas the Miracle Maker who, needless to say was a thoroughly nice chap-as Saints have a habit of being.
I didn’t have a guide book but if I did am sure it would say it was a pretty little church well worth a visit, as I pondered the pious the quiet evening air was punctuated by a high pitched scream, I glanced in the direction of the pained outburst; and there, just in front of the back entrance of the church, so to speak, were two Dachshunds coitally engaged, their owners, one on her knees and the other stooping to the level of the dogs were seemingly orchestrating a less than romantic union, another couple sat sucking enthusiastically on cigarettes on a park bench, voyeurs to a public display of canine copulation, I, on the other hand tried not to stare but out of the corner my eye watched stooping owner maneuver the horny hound much like a quarterback with a football, another screech and shuffling of paws, the voyeurs puffed in silent boredom. This I thought, was a curious affair.
Another screech, unable to resist one last glance I stumbled over the curb of the pathway and headed towards the Alexandra Nevsky cathedral in search of some neo-Byzantine sanity.
What was happening in the corner of a Bulgarian park is something of a mystery to me, perhaps the proximity of the church was relevant, a blessing from the Miracle Maker perhaps? Could it have just been everyday animal husbandry occurring in a pretty little park in Sofia.
The art and joy of street photography allows me to slowly absorb the environment I am exploring, to pause and observe, to question, often voyeuristic and always fascinating.
Breaking Blog News:
2003-2013 Living in Syria
2013-2018 Living Turkey
2018- I have now relocated to Sofia in Bulgaria for a new chapter and Balkan adventure.
Here are a few of the first street images I have made while exploring my new home-with lots more to follow along with my usual off-beat observations.
Do sign up for Email updates in the box to the bottom right of the page and connect on all the usual channels @JohnWreford