A Historical Look at Photography in Bulgaria
Bulgarian photography and art information – looking at the historical archive collection and the schools of photography and arts.
Great winds of change have blown over the Bulgarian lands during the last years. This fact adds to the many things Bulgarians have to say about their country and its broad culture. No doubt, photography is still the ideal means to reflect this reality and to reveal it to the world, sometimes with the help of the Internet.
Although Bulgarian photographers are rather famous, it was not until the 1980’s that a new group of photo artists started depicting their reality by means of their risky shots, as a desire for freedom from the rule of Communism.
If their situation were analyzed in detail, it would be easy to arrive at the conclusion that fighting the severity of such totalitarian regime was not their only one concern when the time came to shoot – the lack of raw materials during the socialist rule would play against their activities and their need for expression. Moreover, if they wanted to stick to their vocation, they had to conform to the regime and just follow the iconographic prototypes of the official idiosyncrasy.
Photography in Bulgaria is important from different points of view, apart from being an aid to make true the Bulgarians’ hope of deliverance. It is a revealing tool – a form of art that helps capture the wonderful and different landscapes in the country, as well as its festivals, traditions, and nice people.
Hence, those brave private photographers of the actual new generation from the 1980s and on had to strive for their own artistic identity, and they did it. They set new aesthetic grounds, finally set free from the Soviet cliche.
The Soviet manifestations of art in those times exerted certain influences on Bulgarian photography and on some other methods of art. Hence, they set several lines or tendencies up to the 1980s. The aesthetic concepts had floated back to the times of the great revolution, the individual identity of artists was nationalized, and arts went back to the same contents, over and over again.
However, they were committed enough to their aims, in a moment when all aesthetic fields were going through a great moment and photography reinvented its own style and found new interesting themes. Not only photographers devoted time to this activity, but also experimenters, eccentrics and journalists.
There has been, of course, hectic activity for photojournalists and photo advertisers lately. They rule the market at the present time and make extensive use of the Bulgarian public resources as well.
Both photojournalism and photo advertising went through difficult times under the regime. Photojournalism actively participated in making up the reality that the government wanted to show, and photo advertisement did not even exist. It was really difficult for both activities to set free and overcome that situation.
Nevertheless, it was easier for photographers than it was for writers or painters, always in the focus of the attention of everything that is related to arts. The more peripheral position of photography was in that sense beneficial, but, on the other hand, artists would feel that nobody was paying attention to what they had to say.
The Collection in the Historical Archive
Good or bad, free or restricted, Bulgarian photography is useful to depict reality and keep a record. That mission is also the one of the BHA (Bulgarian Historical Archive), where the MDC (Manuscripts and Documents Centre) and the National Library are located, and keep a collection of pieces called “Portraits and Photos”, consisting on eighty thousand pictures and other documents that depict the different steps of Bulgaria History and also show the development of Photography in Europe.
The institution was started back in 1878 and lasted to the present day, although it had several different names. The BHA keeps one million and five hundred thousand documents along with the ones in hands of individual collectors who, together with the staff at the BHA have contributed to enlarge and keep this remarkable collection for more than one hundred years. Some researchers that have worked for hand in hand with the BHA are Dora Belcheva Popsavova, Ivan Panayotov, and Kirila Vazvazova Karateodorova.
Schools of Photography and Other Arts Today
The Ministry of Culture in Bulgaria has set a new educational system that provides the necessary framework for a brand new system of schools of arts and culture, created to give specific training to youngsters who need or want to achieve a great extent of expertise in several various arts. They also receive a general education in order to get full preparation for their development in life and in the fields they choose.
This system includes 22 schools. Some examples: the National Choreographic School, Polygraphy and Photography School, The National Educational Centre of Culture, and the National High School for Ancient Languages and Culture.