University: University of Portsmouth
Artist Statement: Slices of Red questions the notion of indexicality in relation to the photograph regarded as a document of the real. The work explores personal and social memory in relation to identity and politics. With the use of vernacular photography and family narratives I illustrate the commonality of experience, behaviour and belonging. The stories recounted from first person’s point of view obliterate the individual in order to create a collective narrative and reference the ideologies of Eastern European communism. The constructivist design creates a contrast between the movement’s ideology and the concept of the project, allowing the truth to slip out through the slices.
Where did you attend university and what year did you graduate? I attended the University of Portsmouth and graduated from BA (Hons) Photography in July 2016. I also started an MA in Photography this September at the University of Portsmouth and I am graduating in 2017.
What are some standout moments from your time at university? Maybe the beginning of first year will remain unforgettable. I had no idea what was I doing but I kept trying again and again. I was so bad at everything back then, I kept over or under exposing my films, I didn’t stop damaging my work and failing at everything my fingers touched. But now when I look back I think that this is what was so good about my first year. Starting something with failure is so much greater than having the beginner’s luck - because then you actually learn how things should be done and you appreciate the final results even more.
What themes do you find yourself exploring? In my work I explore identity, society, politics and memories.
What encouraged you to make this series into a book? In my practice, I use text in order to tell the narratives of my images. In this case the book is not only accompanying the work, but also extending and continuing its concept. The book references the Little red book created by chairman Mao Tse-tung, who was the founding father of Communist China. The book was with quotations of the Chinese leader, it was published in the 1964 and distributed to everyone that lived in China. The size of it was A6 – a pocket sized book that anyone can carry with them. This was one of the propaganda tools of communism that also had to be learned by the Chinese citizens because they would sometimes be stopped by the police and asked to recite a certain page.
I was shocked and inspired by this and later on in the creation of my work, I found a way to reference the red book and to use it within the context of my work. Slices of Red is exploring the absurd normality that communism created in the Soviet countries, through found imagery and family memories. The Slices of Red book narrates some of these stories in relation to the photographs.
Can you tell us about the text that accompanies the images in your book. Where did this text come from, and what does it add to the overall narrative of Slices of Red? The texts in my book were inspired by the memories of my family. They are the stories that I grew up with, they were told to me as if they were mundane and normal experiences. But through my eyes as a child and even as a grown-up I have never been able to perceive them as normal or boring. I never saw communism with my own eyes, I was born in the post-communist years when Bulgaria was trying to become a democratic country. Despite this, I was raised by a communist grandmother and she told me all about the regime from her nostalgic and romanticized point of view.
In my work I discovered some of the holes in the system, some of the mistakes and failures. I also explored the gap between the individual and the collective, the rules of the system and the human-being trying to fit in. All of these stories are also relevant to any other ex-soviet country.
The outcome of your series is really unique, where does your inspiration come from? There were many things that influenced me and helped my work develop. One of them was the Constructivist movement. Not only visually, but also conceptually - the constructivists were inspired by the awaiting progress of the new communist system, so they genuinely believed that they could one day live in this real utopia. In my work I am creating contrast between the constructivist’s ideology and the implementation of communism.
And the biggest inspiration is my family, they won’t stop inspire me and give me more ideas even about future works.
Your series description states you've explored personal and social memories through the production of these images. Are there any themes that you can tell us about in support of a particular image? Yes, every image is linked to a different story. All of the stories are written from first person’s point of view in order to obliterate the individual. For example the image below is telling a memory about nationalization which was something that happened in a lot of ex-soviet countries when the system started. Nationalization means that everything that was privately owned became owned by the state. My grandmother was just one of the victims – the Communist party took her house and hotel, demolished them in order to build tower blocks with apartments.
As I heard this story as a child I always felt so sad and helpless, experiencing it as a personal, family grief. But lately I found out that this was actually a collective grief, an experience that happened to many people in other countries as well.
Another issue during the communist regime was the lack of information. Moreover the fact that all of the media was owned by the Communist party. The image below shares a story from my mother. The memory is about the disaster in Chernobyl and the fact that years later, was finally announced by the communist media. While on the Western media was announced on the day in which it happened. Only the people from the party knew about it, the rest of the soviet world was once again lied in order to be ‘’protected’’.
What encouraged you to take on an MA in photography? Are you continuing this particular body of work as part of your studies? I think that what encouraged me the most to continue my studies and start an MA was the success of my final body of work for the BA. It was also my passion for understanding more about the past and history of my country as well as the hundreds of ideas I always have about future works. At the moment I am working on a new body of work, which is also about communism, memory and society.
What have you learnt about yourself from making Slices of Red? I learnt quite a lot about myself, my own practice and the way I work. I have been reflecting a lot on this work in the past months, preparing it for different exhibitions, talking about it and realising that I developed my own methodology of working through this project. Slices of Red is very important for me, because it led me to the path I want to take in my career - it directed me towards the issues of politics that I am now dealing with in my new work, and will continue exploring in the future.
Were you influenced by any particular photobooks when making your own? Yes, I was influenced by El Lissitzky's book A Tale for Two Squares, Dinu Li's book The Mother of all Journeys and the Holy Bible by Oliver Chanarin & Adam Broomberg.
How have members of your family responded to your work? Did they have any input or influence over the way you made your work? The whole work was originally inspired by my family's memories of the communist time. Later on I found out that all of the citizens of the Soviet world had fought with the same issues and lived in the same totalitarian dictatorship, so the memories were no longer simply theirs.
My parents and my uncle, they really support this project and what I do. They see the importance of my work, they understand that what I am doing is not for myself, it is for my whole generation - it is for those who forget. I am telling these distant stories so that history will be remembered as it was, not as the propaganda that was turned into.
What are your future plans for after your MA? My future plans are to start a photography organisation that will support emerging artists. I also want to start giving talks in my home country about communism and about my own practice. At some point I also want to start writing a book about the history of the Bulgarian photography.